The soccer world is about to say goodbye to one of its most gifted and influential players.
Superstar Megan Rapinoe, who plays forward for OL Reign, the National Women’s Soccer League team in Seattle, recently announced her plans to retire this year. “It’s with a really deep sense of peace, and gratitude, and excitement that I want to share … that this is going to be my last … World Cup and my last NWSL season,” she said at a press conference this weekend.
After expressing gratitude to her teammates, coaches and fans for their support, she noted, with emotion, how honored she is to have had the opportunities she’s enjoyed. “I could have just, like, never have imagined where this beautiful game would have taken me,” she added.
And it’s taken her far. In addition to a stellar NWSL career on several teams, Rapinoe has represented the U.S. as a three-time Olympic champion and two-time World Cup winner. While playing on the national team and serving as captain, she became one of just seven players to rack up over 50 goals, earning FIFA’s prestigious Golden Boot and Golden Ball distinctions. She’s also received the Presidential Medal of Freedom and ESPN’s Player of the Year award.
Rapinoe has also been an outspoken advocate for LGBTQ rights, and against gendered pay inequities. She has partnered with organizations like the Gay, Lesbian & Straight Education Network and Athlete Ally, a nonprofit advocacy group pushing for inclusion in sports. Rapinoe, who is gay herself, came out in 2012, and was one of the first high-profile athletes to do so. She is now engaged to WNBA star Sue Bird. She has additionally spoken out in support of trans women athletes.
Moreover, she was one of the first white athletes to kneel in solidarity with former NFL player Colin Kaepernick’s now-famous protest against police brutality. And, she led the lengthy legal campaign for fair pay in women’s soccer, which resulted in a $24 million settlement.
Following news of her retirement plans, supporters from all corners of the world took to social media to sing Rapinoe’s praises – both as a player, and as a person.
“I am struck by how she has spent years wearing an unbothered grin while telling the worst political actors in this country to f*ck off,” tweeted The Nation sports editor Dave Zirin. “We must treasure our joyous rebels.”
Added a fan and Twitter user who calls themselves Maisie, “I won’t just remember Megan Rapinoe for being a bloody good baller. I’ll remember her speaking about equal pay and gender inequality, equal marriage and racial injustice. I’ll remember her speaking against [former president Donald] Trump.”
Maisie added, “I’ll remember, ‘You can’t win a championship without gays on your team.’”
In a Time cover article published in tandem with her announcement, Rapinoe said that she plans to keep fighting those good fights post-retirement, partially through her storytelling production company, A Touch More. “I have this incredible privilege and platform, and hope that I can turn that into rocket fuel for the next phase of everything,” she told the magazine.
Rapinoe added, “I want to make the world a better place. And I will pull that lever slowly, relentlessly and ruthlessly, forever.”