To have crossed paths with Megan Rapinoe is to have a Megan Rapinoe story.
Back in 2019, following a second World Cup trophy, The Pose, and her breakout into the mainstream, I wrote a long feature about how Rapinoe was one of our Athletes of the Year at The Athletic — it was a collection of short stories about Rapinoe, the human and the player.
So when my colleague Steph Yang and I started asking teammates, coaches and staff (who have known her for years) for their Rapinoe stories ahead of her final U.S. game on Sunday, the answers didn’t surprise us. Of course they have them. There’s just one small challenge: can they be shared?
A decade of Megan Rapinoe shows how far women’s soccer has come
When I asked U.S. women’s national team forward Midge Purce in Cincinnati last week for her best story, she stared back at me for a second. “That’s fit for public consumption,” I clarified.
“Yeah, that’s the key!” She laughed, staring off and rummaging through what must be a pretty good mental file of options.
“I’m thinking about Cabo,” she starts, before a long pause. “No.” Definitely nothing for publication there. What about the White House, when the U.S. teammates appeared with President Joe Biden on Equal Pay Day?
EQUAL PAY DAY: Megan Rapinoe: “I’m still paid less than men who do the same job that I do.” pic.twitter.com/FU1jb4hUxE
— Forbes (@Forbes) March 25, 2021
“Oh, that was fantastic,” Purce said. “Pinoe has been one of the most welcoming icons from the very beginning, she’s always been super, super down to earth. It was crazy to go to the White House, and she’s been there before. I mean, I’ve been there, but she’s been there for sports reasons. She was just a friend, walking through the White House with me. But honestly, I don’t have an appropriate story even when I think about the White House. The things that went on behind the scenes, I can not share.”
Purce laughed all over again. There’s probably been a lot of that over the past few days, and there will be a little bit more on Sunday as Rapinoe takes the field one final time for the U.S. at Soldier Field in Chicago. There will be tears too. Taking the field while wearing the U.S. crest for the 203rd time, Rapinoe’s USWNT chapter will come to a close, but the stories are going to live on.
Here are a few of the ones we could get on the record.
– Meg Linehan
Lori Lindsey – USWNT teammate from 2006-2013
This is a story that reminds me of Megan a lot. It makes me laugh periodically and also, whenever we’re together, we reference it and make jokes. It was back in the Algarve (Cup) days when we used to play the championship and then we’d most likely stay up through the middle of the night, or only get a few hours of sleep because we’d have an early, like 2 or 3 a.m. bus ride back to Lisbon from the Algarve to catch an early flight.
Most of us would go to our favorite Indian food place or (get) pizzas and this random year, for some reason, there were all these pizzas delivered and one was like shrimp alfredo or something. To say the least, it didn’t sit well with some people, in particular Aaron Heifetz, our press officer.
(Ed.note: Aaron Heifetz could neither confirm nor deny the cuisine from this story to The Athletic, but was firm that it could not have been shrimp, as he does not consume shrimp.)
Megan and I were on the bus, (Heifetz) was always diagonal from us where we usually sat on the bus. And so all of a sudden we hear this kind of like, ‘blech, blech.’ Heif says, ‘Stop the bus, stop the bus,’ and then vomits everywhere. I mean, it’s a bit of hyperbole, but it did feel like the barf scene from the movie ‘Stand By Me’ because there were other people that were sick as well. Anyway, they did have to stop the bus. They pulled over. (Heif) obviously changes into other windbreaker pants — listen, it was just f—ing hilarious, but also disgusting. Also, everyone felt terrible because people had food poisoning. It wasn’t great. And we were about to go on a transatlantic flight.
Megan and I, per usual, are just full of jokes and shenanigans, and we turned it into a song. I mean, the song isn’t great, but here it goes.
It’s like (rhythmically) ‘Blech blech, stop the bus, stop the bus, too late, too late.’ Heifetz was I think so embarrassed, but he was like, ‘too late, too late’ after barf was everywhere. And so Megan and I, to this day, still sing the song. It makes us laugh. We crack up, we reference it to Heif all the time.
It reminds me of Megan because as you would know, the environment can be really competitive. It can be mundane, it can be repetitive, and Megan and I were always up for shenanigans. But Megan in particular, I think one of the reasons why she’s been able to have the career that she has is because, yes, she takes the craft seriously; yes, she takes her platform and her voice incredibly seriously; but it’s the shenanigans, these laughs, that she doesn’t take seriously. And that story just makes me laugh. It makes me think of Megan and why she has been so popular amongst teammates, but also just successful within the sport.
Aaron Heifetz — USWNT press officer for more than two decades
In 2019, everyone thought that the stuff with Megan and our former President was so huge. Of course, it was outside the team and in the world, but inside the team, it really wasn’t. So the tweets hit, and I’m like, “What is going on here?” You never panic, I’m not going to go rushing to Megan. We actually went to training and we’re coming back and pulling into the hotel, and Megan finds me and is like, ‘Yeah, I think we need to talk.’ And I was like, ‘Yeah, we need to talk.’
We had her set to do the FIFA press conference the next day. We weren’t even thinking about pulling her from this press conference, and she was also like, ‘No way, I want to do it.’
She just goes, simply, “I’ve thought about it, this is what I want to say. What do you think?” I told her maybe you should say that the swearing was inappropriate. She said, “Yeah, maybe I’ll do that.” Of course, being Megan Rapinoe, she did not apologize for the swearing; she did eventually. But she just went there the next day and was amazing.
But that’s Megan. She makes the tough times easier for everybody. Just because she has such a high level of intelligence, emotional intelligence. She was great.
Merritt Mathias – Reign teammate from 2015-2017
I have to give P so much credit for me really diving into my sexuality. I went to Seattle when I was in my formative 20s. I got there, I was like 25. And I walked in there being like the straight, straight, straight girlie from Birmingham, Alabama and very quickly became friends with P. All of a sudden I’m like looking around. I’m like, listen, all my friends are gay. I’m not gay. Couldn’t be me.
I was there for a year and Sue (Bird) and P had just started dating. I spent a lot of time at their house and they were like, “Listen, please be a lesbian. Like you’re just gonna absolutely love it. Your life is just gonna be so much better. Just embrace it.” I have to thank P for my coming out story. So thank you for that. I love her. She will never be able to like, take that away, but I will literally never forget them being like, ‘Please, please, just be a lesbian.’
Stephanie Cox – Long-time youth and professional teammate
I grew up playing club soccer with Megan and her twin sister Rachael. I remember long road trips down to Southern California and going to regionals in Hawaii and nationals in Georgia. Prior to our games in Hawaii, we got to tour and visit some beaches which was very exciting because that was my first time in Hawaii. Those were sweet and simple times for us and our youth teammates.
Megan had quite an impact on the field at (the University of Portland) as well as off the field. She had a hard time assimilating to all of the team rules and it impacted one of our road trips to BYU and her involvement. Her strong viewpoint would not be stifled. At the time this was difficult with all of the norms and unity that were stressed in college to create a cohesive team with so many individuals from different backgrounds. I honestly don’t remember the particulars, I would just stress that she wasn’t into conformity.
But over the course of Megan’s career, she has shown a new way of celebrating everyone’s unique personalities and traits that can make a team shine. I can’t help but think that this adversity only served to further galvanize Megan’s resolve into the dominant spokesperson she is today.
Laura Harvey – OL Reign head coach
So the backstory to both of these stories: it’s the early days of the Reign, early days of the league. Whenever we would go to new cities on away games, because of how far we would travel, we’d always end up there early. So if you’re in New Jersey, people would want to go into Manhattan for the afternoon. Going to play Western New York, if the players wanted to go, someone would drive them to Niagara Falls. In year one, a couple of us did it. In year two, a couple of us did it. So it’s 2015, Sam (Laity) the assistant coach takes a group of about five to Niagara Falls, and the rest of us stay back. The plan is to meet for team dinner at six. Around 6:15, our phones just started blowing up in the group chat.
There are these photos of Kim (Little) and Sam, and it looks like they’ve been arrested. And we’re all like, “What the f— is going on, you were supposed to be at team dinner 15 minutes ago.” They were like, “Sam and Kim went beyond the fence, the police arrested them, and they’re just getting a court citation.” And I’m like, “If Sam Laity gets Kim Little deported, I’m gonna kill him.”
One of those photos had Kim and Sam literally on rocks in the Falls. And Sam’s doing this stance where he’s got his thumb up sideways. (Rapinoe) and all those guys are at the World Cup (in 2015), and they’re all like, ‘What the hell is going on?’
So fast-forward to the 2021 Olympics. Pinoe scores an olimpico, top corner, there’s no one in the stands. Except me. I’m the coach in the stand. So when she scores, obviously, I’m yelling and she just turned, stands, two feet spread — you’ll have to find the photo — and massive sidewards thumb. And I’m just like, ‘How freaking cool is that?’ This has been going on since 2015, it’s the funniest, dumbest story that just lasted and she took it global. That s— went global, everyone knew about it! I’m texting Sam, ‘You’re in USA Today,’ and he’s like, ‘What do you mean?’ Sidewards thumb. Who does that? She’s got no concept that what she’s done is so funny and so impactful to everyone around her. She just took something that was so Seattle Reign and made it global.
Sidewards thumb again. Pregame, we’re in the locker room, we’re in Washington, D.C., Maryland, wherever it is. It’s a massive game, I think we needed to win it, it was towards the end of the season. I was really getting into them, ‘We’re setting the tone for playoffs,’ that sort of thing. I’m not really aggressive, that’s not just who I am, but I’m trying to do this motivational speech.
So I’m like, ‘We need to make sure that we win every tackle, that we complete every pass, and we get into it in the final third and all that.’ Then, ‘You need to do it for yourself! You need to do it for the people around you!’ Then I sort of lose track of what I’m saying. ‘You need to do it… do it for… your country!’
And Pinoe just stands up, in the middle of the group, and just gradually brings the sidewards thumb up over her head. And everyone just bursts out laughing. So my aim was to give this really good, motivational, rah-rah, we’re going to go out there and smash them speech, and it ended with everyone absolutely rolling around laughing because I lost my train of thought and Pinoe just… and that’s what sidewards thumb became. This thing that whenever it was a little bit awkward, a little bit funny, but no one was quite sure if you should laugh or not, just raise the sidewards thumb.
Oh my god, I have so many stories. And all of them, I’m like, should I tell that one?
(Top photo: Meg Linehan/The Athletic)