Interviews

Rapinoe refuses to be silent on LGBT, gender equality in sports

Michael Chow-USA Today Sports

Rapinoe, who is openly gay, is an ambassador for Athlete Ally, which fights against homophobia and transphobia in sports.

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ITHACA, N.Y. - Some 3,000 miles from home, Megan Rapinoe sat in an auditorium full of a few hundred strangers to discuss her sexuality. And she could not been more comfortable.

It’s part of who she is, after all.

“There is no reason why I’m not out,” Rapinoe said. “This is important. This is important to me, but it’s important on such a bigger level.”

The U.S. women’s national team and Seattle Reign FC star - who is currently recovering from a torn ACL - spoke at Cornell University on Thursday at an event hosted by Athlete Ally, a national non-profit organization which promotes public understanding and educational programming to implement LGBT awareness in sports. The organization’s goal is to end homophobia in sports and to make athletes who identify as LGBT accepted within their sport. Cornell is one of many universities to launch an Athlete Ally chapter.

Rapinoe publicly announced she was gay in 2012 and became an ambassador for Athlete Ally in 2013. In a Q&A at Cornell on Thursday, Rapinoe spoke about how those open about their sexuality should be accepted.

“I am comfortable being labeled as gay. That sits well with me. You don’t have to be one thing or another.”

- Megan Rapinoe

“I am comfortable being labeled as gay. That sits well with me,” Rapinoe said. “You don’t have to be one thing or another.”

She feels she should not have to hide who she is and what makes a huge aspect of her life. She also wants to talk about the issue as much as she can, which is why she came to Cornell.

Rapinoe identified herself as gay when she was in college. She was never able to feel it when she was younger, but she knew she felt different and wasn’t quite the same as everyone else.

Rapinoe says she has always felt accepted by her U.S. teammates, but she keeps in mind that not every professional athlete has that leisure. Rapinoe went on to explain that being openly gay could be a struggle for other athletes, professionally or at any level. Some are either afraid of a label or the negativity that comes with being openly gay.

Especially for gay female athletes, she finds it interesting how some people in society today have a perception of them that it’s okay for them to “look gay.” Jokingly, to follow her analogy, Rapinoe continued that statement by saying if women have short hair or wear flannel, then that’s fine.

“But what if you don’t look gay?” Rapinoe said. “It’s okay to look any way you want.”

Rapinoe says that coming out was the best thing she has ever done for herself. Even though others do not need to know exactly what Rapinoe and others go through, they can empathize in a certain way.

Jennifer Nicholson-USA TODAY Sports

Rapinoe faces a race to fitness for the Olympics. (Jennifer Nicholson-USA TODAY Sports)

Elsewhere, Rapinoe is among the leaders fighting for equality. The U.S. Women’s National Team Players Association (USWNTPA) has publicly traded legal volleys with the U.S. Soccer Federation over the past month over the validity of a collective bargaining agreement and whether or not one even exists. The U.S. women, who won the 2015 World Cup, are unhappy with how they are currently treated by their federation.

“It boils down to people at the top making a choice. They’re making a choice for unequal conditions for women,” Rapinoe said.

As a team, they are asking for conditions that are fair, such as salary, traveling and accommodations.

“A lot more thought needs to be put into those positions at the top,” Rapinoe said. “A lot of times, issues actually do just go unnoticed.”

Rapinoe has been in and out of camp with the team, which is monitoring her recovery. She describes her recovery as normal, but did not indicate what she thought her odds would be to make the roster for the Olympics in August.

For Rapinoe, it is a choice to advocate for equality on all levels. But she emphasizes that, particularly when coming out, different people will take different approaches.

“Not everyone wants to be an advocate,” Rapinoe said. “Everyone who comes out is a big deal and there is going to be a lot of attention on them in the beginning.”

In a press conference afterwards, when asked about what the next step is her and other advocates are going to take to push for LGBT inclusion in sports, Rapinoe expressed how important it is to have an attitude that says “it’s not okay” to be discriminated against.

“We’re going to keep talking about it and we’re going to keep bringing light to this issue,” Rapinoe said. “And just not letting the issue be silent.”