Megan Rapinoe would like you to stop asking when she’s going to retire.
When the U.S. women’s soccer team fell to Canada at the Olympics, a shocking upset for a team that has come to dominate the sport, journalists descended on the 36-year-old forward, pressing her for an answer.
“You guys are trying to put me out to pasture already,” she said at a Tokyo news conference.
She would like to get behind the camera of a Nike commercial — and make sure female athletes are taken just as seriously as LeBron James.
This interview has been edited for length and clarity.
Q: I want to say right off the bat, I am not going to ask you when you plan to retire from competitive soccer.
A: Thank you.
Q: But reading all of the interviews from the Olympics, I am curious how it feels to have all these people asking you about retirement.
A: I think it happens to women more than men, so that drives me absolutely insane. For men, the general assumption is: If you have a leg to stand on, of course you’re going to try to play because of the money. Why would you ever not? If LeBron James can make $40 million a year forever, duh. No one questions that. People talk about how amazing it is that they’re 40 and still playing.
I feel like I’ve been getting this question for years. And being around Sue [Bird], she’s been getting it for years. It becomes this thing where it’s like — why are you guys so obsessed with when we’re going to retire? Why don’t you just be obsessed with what we’re still able to do at an older age? It’s a little annoying.
Q: Why do you think we put this question to women more than men?
A: At the heart of it, I think people think women play sports just for the pure love of the game, because you can’t make any money in it — when that’s very much not the reality. Sue says this all the time: Everybody is poor compared to NBA players. Just because I don’t make $40 million doesn’t mean the money I make is poverty.
It also distills down to this purity argument: Women can’t be brash. We can’t act a certain way. We can’t talk about money. People say: “Oh, you guys just play for the love of the game and that’s why we love you so much.” And I’m like, “What do you actually mean by that?” You’re now just putting that on the men that they just do it for the money — and on us, like, oh you guys are just so pure in the game, which distills down to this weird virginity thing. Not actually, but you know what I mean.
Q: When did people start asking when you were going to retire?
A: I tore my ACL when I was 30, in 2015 — and I get those questions were injury-based. But certainly the last couple of years. Definitely after the 2019 World Cup. And it’s just one of those things that’s floating around now.
Q: I’m interested in what you want to do when you do (eventually) have more free time than you have now. How would you fill a week that has absolutely no soccer in it?
A: I want to fill a week by working to change everything in our society, and just looking at it from the opposite perspective. For example, take a Nike commercial. I just feel like I know how to sell female athletes. I feel it in my bones.
Q: What do you mean?
A: Male athletes just get to show up. And they’re like — well, yeah. I’m LeBron James. They just get to show up in the commercial and are like, “You know who I am.” Women don’t ever get that. And it’s not even an arrogance thing. It’s just about being able to see that person for who they are and what they bring.
All the stories that get told about women athletes are always with a heavy hand of, “and they are activists and they are fighting for equality.” It’s always that. We just get pigeonholed.
Sometimes Breanna Stewart just wants to be the best player. They just want to be the people who have freaking done everything. Can they just be that for a second? They’re going to continue to do everything else.
Q: Do you see yourself directing media that features female athletes in a completely new way?
A: Oh my god yeah, I would love to do that. I have 1,000 ideas. Everybody, you just need to give me the keys.
Q: I want to talk about another non-competitive-soccer thing you’re into — books. You’re starting a new book club this month. What made you want to do that?
A: I want people to be having these conversations about things they don’t have experience in. Sometimes it’s hard — you have your friends, you have your family. All the books I want to pick — the first one being “Unbound” by Tarana Burke, who is an icon — are going to talk about multiple different intersectionalities through a particular story. These things will just naturally seep into you. You don’t have to go take a course on #MeToo, but you can learn about it through a beautiful story. It just opens people’s empathy up.
Q: I want to end with something you said at the Olympics, after the Canada match, that really stood out to me. You said your team hadn’t “found your joy” at the Games. Could you describe that joy and how you experience it?
A: I think the joy comes from being very clear about what success means for you, particularly in the context of a team — working together and all being on the same page. Whether you achieve the goal or not is very not important in a way. But going out there and understanding what you’re trying to do and knowing that all the other people are all on the same page and trying to do the same thing and enjoy it — that’s very important to me. I just don’t think things are worth doing if you’re miserable all the time. Not to say that you’re always going to be happy, because there’s a big difference. But you can find joy in struggling together. When you don’t play with that joy, you’re missing a big part of what makes soccer so beautiful — and also what makes life so beautiful.