Megan Rapinoe: Ballon d'Or winner on Donald Trump, arrogance and equal pay

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Megan Rapinoe on goal celebrations, finding her voice and Donald Trump

Lifting the Women's World Cup, winning countless individual awards and taking on the president of the United States - welcome to Megan Rapinoe's 2019.

The USA winger, 34, has risen to global prominence as much for her achievements off the pitch as on it. She has taken home the Golden Boot, the Ballon d'Or and the Fifa Best prizes, all while capturing attention for her strong opinions and committed campaigning for equal pay.

In a wide-ranging BBC Sport interview, Rapinoe speaks about quarrelling with Donald Trump, the arrogance of 'The Pose' and why she believes in standing up for Colin Kaepernick.

'I didn't logically understand the gravity of having a president quarrel with you' - Rapinoe on Trump

Donald Trump tweet
USA president Donald Trump answered Megan Rapinoe's initial comments on Twitter

In June, US President Donald Trump criticised Rapinoe after she told magazine 'Eight by Eight' she would not go to the White House if the USA team won the Women's World Cup.

Honestly, it felt much less serious than it actually was. I didn't logically understand the gravity of having a president quarrel with you.

Presidents do not quarrel with people on Twitter, presidents don't go after members of their own team and put undue pressure on them before their biggest game of the tournament. Presidents don't bash every single powerful woman he possibly could, so he's not presidential to me.

The team, they were pretty chill. It was like everybody had my back and it didn't become a thing within the group.

'It's the same group trying to keep everybody else out of power' - Rapinoe on Kaepernick

Rapinoe was one of the first athletes to join Colin Kaepernick's protest against police brutality by kneeling during the American national anthem. After team regulations changed, she now protests by refusing to sing the national anthem and does not put her hand on the badge. She has said she will probably never sing the national anthem again.

Before the 2012 Olympics, I decided to come out. It felt weird that I was not out.

There were so many positive outcomes from that, helping to move that conversation forward, in asking people to be my ally and support me. And that did not mean you were gay or fully understood it the way that I do, but I needed people to be my ally.

Fast forward to 2016 and I'm watching the Colin Kaepernick stuff unfolding and immediately I felt like: 'I do not know exactly what it is like to be you but I believe you and what you are saying.'

I believe that in order for change to happen it has to be more than the oppressed person's responsibility. Going through all of the backlash and the craziness and the hatred, that only solidified my understanding of myself and the power in my voice.

I think everyone has a responsibility to do whatever it is they can in the most impactful way they can, to make the world a better place.

Megan Rapinoe and Alex Morgan
Rapinoe does not hold her hand on her heart in a silent protest for black rights

I am a semi-famous person on a semi-famous team - on a very successful team - that has media access every single day in a growing platform. I think everything is connected - whether it is the fight for equal pay, a fight for open access to sport, racial inequalities, police brutality, LGBTQ+.

It is all the same group in power over-lording over everybody else trying to keep everybody else out of power and not really sharing in the wealth - not just in money - but in the wealth of what it means to live a really full life where you actually feel free to live like how you want.

I think it's still evolving but I realised that it's all the same just in different ways and people deal with different things but we all need to be in together to get change.

Now there are so many more opportunities and so many more lanes for people to be in that there is an opportunity and a space for you to be exactly who you want to be. Don't let anyone ever tell you what that is. Never let anybody else define you or your dream or what you want to be.

'You English are so uptight sometimes' - Rapinoe on celebrations

Rapinoe has gone from a shy girl in school who did not know she was gay to a public icon who cannot go out without people stopping her for selfies. The USA winger is in an incredibly polarising personality - gaining support for her outspoken approach and being criticised by those who deem her too brash and arrogant. Her iconic but unabashed goal celebration, standing confidently with her arms held aloft, has become symbolic of that split in opinion - charismatic defiance or overconfident? Team-mate Alex Morgan's tea-sipping celebration after scoring against England also created headlines.

Megan Rapinoe celebrates scoring at the World Cup
Rapinoe's goal celebration was a recurring image of the 2019 World Cup

School was a little weird. I am a twin, my sister Rachael was really confident at that time so I literally followed her around. I did not know I was gay so as soon as I figured that out it was so obvious - thanks nobody for telling me!

I also had sport to gain my confidence, that was the place where I got my identity. Being on the USA team gives you confidence - to be able to grow up and mature on a team that has 23 other women who are as elite and confident as you is amazing.

I did 'The Pose' [the goal celebration] for the first time against Australia in a friendly. They were one of the more talked about teams going into the World Cup. There was a lot of hype around it and we wanted to stamp our dominance a little bit.

In the beginning it was a bit of a touch of arrogance. Like: 'I know you are entertained in this moment and I am the one entertaining you.' In the World Cup it was much more a defiance but a joy as well, it was about not letting people take any of our joy.

Alex Morgan celebrates scoring against England with a 'spot of tea'
Alex Morgan celebrated scoring against England with a 'spot of tea'

There was lots of talk about arrogance, celebrating too much, but this is what you want. These are the goals you want and this team is giving it to you - it's defiance but it's cheeky. I feel like we're going to have fun. We have a very serious role to play so it is kind of a balance of that. We have always done this - we have done cartwheels, sang into microphones, made snow angels when we played in the snow.

The next level trolling with the tea [by Alex Morgan] is so funny; it's so funny because you English are so uptight sometimes. It was just so perfect, you know?

I said after the Thailand game [where the USA team were criticised by pundits and former players for their celebrations in a 13-0 win at the World Cup in June] - if anybody wants to come after us for not playing the right way, for not being good ambassadors, then I am happy to have that conversation.

'Milk comes with four selfies' - Rapinoe on fame

Going for milk now comes with four selfies - that is the usual accompaniment.

No, seriously though, I can go places but there's not really a place that I'm going where people don't recognise me. Even if people don't come over, you get the glances around you. I'm also a really observant person in general, so I feel like I sort of feel everything that is going on all the time. It's been totally insane, in the best way, in the most exhausting way. It's been hard in ways with all the travelling around.

I have a lot of miles on the airlines travelling all over but it's kind of amazing to have the career where I started at this particular point and it just seems like every year it is getting blown out of the water and the sport is growing so much, so I have this real perspective of where we have come from.

Knowing what we did this summer and feeling that and still figuring it out, you cannot help but feel surreal and awestruck by everything that is happening.

I just got put on a rocket ship. I am enjoying the ride but I'm like this is crazy. In a good way.

'It would be a nice little cherry on top' - Rapinoe on equal pay

The US women's football team have been fighting for equal pay since spring 2018, when Abby Wambach gave a commencement address at Barnard College. On 8 March 2019 the team sued the US Soccer Federation, claiming "purposeful gender discrimination". During the Women's World Cup the usual chant of "USA" was changed to "equal pay" by fans in stadiums and across the world, but since August mediation talks have broken down.

I feel like every team in the World Cup, in a sense we were all on the same team fighting for something bigger, so I feel like I am getting this praise on behalf of everyone else. We were able to transcend sport in such an incredible way.

In sport you always want to win everything, but we've been able to have this impact off the field that is changing people's lives, we are changing our own lives and hopefully pushing the sport forward to get the respect and credit it is due. To be one of the people, to be at one of the teams really at the forefront of that, is insane.

Very early on you realise that it's not just a national team, it's not just a team that gets together, it is so much bigger.

Understanding that we essentially are this really unique, travelling team that represents America all over the country, where we are charged with inspiring and motivating young girls, boys and people everywhere.

Equal pay would be a nice little cherry on top of this year. I don't think any female professional footballer has anything left to prove, it's just a case of everyone else figuring it out.

BBC Sport has launched #ChangeTheGame to showcase female athletes in a way they never have been before. Through more live women's sport available to watch across the BBC in 2019, complemented by our journalism, we are aiming to turn up the volume on women's sport and alter perceptions. Find out more here.

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