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Before the final whistle, before the chants of “Equal pay!” ricocheted around Stade de Lyon, before Megan Rapinoe’s arms were filled with all the trophies a soccer player could possibly earn in one year, first came the tears.

On July 7, in the 61st minute of the 2019 World Cup final against the Netherlands, Rapinoe scored to put the U.S. up 1–0. To her, though, this was more than the goal that would win the Americans a record fourth title. It was the equivalent of flashing double-barrel middle fingers. She’d have loved to have done that just once. But, she says, “there are lines.”

The goal itself, on a penalty kick drawn by teammate Alex Morgan, was, like Rapinoe, more about brains than brawn. She reminded herself, Your opponent is more nervous than you are, then she went low and a bit right, breaking her tendency of high and left. Dutch goalkeeper Sari van Veenendaal flinched toward Rapinoe’s usual side, the net rippled, teammates swarmed and the whole scene ended with the pink-haired lesbian winger posing near the corner flag in defiance and triumph and joy: arms outstretched, chin up, head tipped just back.

The Pose, the signature sporting image of 2019, was more than a celebration, just as Rapinoe’s goal was more than a tournament-winner. No one knew this better than Rapinoe’s mom, Denise, and fraternal twin, Rachael, who together had traversed France for a month with the U.S. team and on the day of the final were sitting just down the sideline. They were there because Megan had laid it on thick that this might be her last World Cup (she’ll reassess after the 2020 Olympics) but also because they know she can be as sensitive as she is tough, and even those who appear superhuman need support. Especially if they’ve been publicly questioned by the leader of the free world.

For 34 years, since Megan was born 11 minutes after Rachael—since they learned to play soccer together at age five, since they came out to each other as gay when they were sophomores at the University of Portland—one sister has fortified the other. In France that meant Rachael pulled Megan aside during a family visitation hour in a hotel lobby, sheltering her from all the fuss and all the paranoia from U.S. Soccer officials who feared the muscle stimulator on Rapinoe’s ailing right hamstring might tip off the world that she’d be missing the semifinal against England. It had meant, years earlier, hiding from Megan the hateful emails that came pouring into Rapinoe SC, a clinics-and-online-apparel company that the sisters run together, after Megan joined an NFL quarterback’s lonely protest during the national anthem.

All of which had led to this day. Rapinoe was the hero of the World Cup, achieving everything she’d ever dreamed of, but in so many ways it was unlike anything she’d imagined. And so, 16 minutes after her final goal, in her 428th minute of play over five matches, she was substituted out and sat down, just across a divider from the U.S. family seats. As the final seconds ticked off the clock, the sisters locked eyes. And they started bawling.

****

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Jeffery A. Salter

Megan Rapinoe is Sports Illustrated’s Sportsperson of the Year. She is just the fourth woman in the award’s 66-year history to win it unaccompanied, a feat that is both a remarkable athletic achievement and a reflection of entrenched gender biases. Rapinoe challenged perceptions of her, of female athletes, of all women. She led her teammates, three months before their tentpole tournament, to sue the U.S. Soccer Federation for equal pay; to declare in advance that they would not visit the White House when they won the Cup; to score 13 goals in a group-stage match against Thailand, without apology.

As for The Pose? “It was kind of like a ‘F— you,’ but with a big smile and a s— eating grin,” Rapinoe says. “You are not going to steal any of our joy.”

Yes, the U.S. women have been here before. But the ’19ers were more dominant than the team that won four years ago—they never trailed in France; they scored a record 26 goals—and they were even bolder than the ’99ers who collectively captured SI’s year-end award two decades ago. Julie Foudy, co-captain of that team, asked her old cohort Mia Hamm about the equal-pay lawsuit, “Do you think we would’ve done this?” And Foudy says they concluded, “We probably would have said, Let’s plant that flag after we’ve won. We had been socialized not to stir the pot. Which I love about Rapinoe, this freedom to speak her mind in a way we didn’t feel we had.”

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Simon Bruty

Since bursting onto the scene with a perfect left-footed cross to Abby Wambach in the 2011 quarterfinal, Rapinoe has been a change agent for the U.S. But the meaning of that change has evolved over time. In ’19 she was the anchor of the left side, coaching up Sam Mewis and Crystal Dunn; she was the captain who walked into the locker room after a tough first half of one elimination game and declared the U.S. was playing “Awesome!”—coercing her teammates to accept said awesomeness; she was the veteran champion of equality who had history on her side when it came to persuading teammates to sue. Most of all, she was a galvanizing force on a team that is now looked up to by any woman who doesn’t want to be told she’s come far enough, who’s taking matters into her own hands. But even Rapinoe couldn’t have predicted how this year would play out.

Before the opening game in Reims, she and Morgan were sitting at their lockers. “One of us has to win the Golden Boot” for the World Cup’s top scorer, Rapinoe told her co-captain. But what she really meant was: You have to win it. Rapinoe never would have bet on herself to take that award (for which she ultimately edged out Morgan) or the Golden Ball (for MVP) or to be named FIFA’s Women’s World Player of the Year two months later. “I’m not sure I’m the best player on my own team,” she admits.

Hers is another kind of magic. Sure, she scored six times, five of those in elimination rounds. But in her three decades preparing for this stage, she never expected to have to perform while the president of her country taunted her and a nonzero percentage of Americans rooted for her to fail.

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Brad Penner-USA TODAY Sports

Rapinoe and her teammates were busing to their training grounds in the western outskirts of Paris on June 26, in advance of a quarterfinal against France, when Donald Trump fired his Twitter salvo. A video, recorded earlier in the year, was making the rounds; in it Rapinoe declared, “I’m not going to the f—— White House” if the U.S. wins. And now POTUS was tweeting: “. . . Megan should WIN first before she TALKS! Finish the job!” Midfielder Allie Long saw this and leaned forward in her seat, toward Rapinoe in front of her. “Pookie,” she said, “you a G.”

In so many ways. Two days later, in a game that felt more like a final, Rapinoe lined up for a fifth-minute free kick from just outside the penalty box. When she saw only two French players in the defensive wall, she said to herself, Well, thank you, and smashed a low kick that bounced through traffic into the goal. Consider The Pose (which she struck after both of her goals in a 2–1 win) her direct response to the President. Says Rapinoe, “I’m going to do me.”

Which has had costs and benefits. After celebrating the championship with teammates in New York City and then Los Angeles, Rapinoe and her girlfriend, WNBA player Sue Bird, were on their way to LAX to catch a flight home to Seattle when U.S. teammates began texting warnings: You cannot go through airport security! They were getting mobbed, even without the pink-haired national hero. Rapinoe had no idea what to do. She didn’t have the means for personal security or a private flight. In the end, her agent hastily arranged for access to a VIP entrance to the airport, something Rapinoe had never considered before.

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Vincent Carchietta-USA TODAY Sports

In the months since: Michelle Obama recruited Rapinoe to join in a voter-participation initiative. Gloria Steinem, the original feminist icon, thanked Rapinoe for carrying her torch. A high school girls’ soccer team in Burlington, Vt., staged its own campaign in support of equal pay, and an 11-year-old boy in Geneva, Ill., went viral for his pink-haired Halloween costume, each inspired by Rapinoe. She has been invited to Washington by New York congresswoman Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez; talked politics on Meet the Press, Pod Save America and CNN; and turned into a coveted endorsement for the 2020 election. No, she’s not running for office anytime soon. “I don’t have plans for policies and how to implement them,” she says. “I’ll just be the jabber.” (The White House did reach out privately to the team about a visit, a U.S. Soccer rep confirms. Rapinoe says she heard about the outreach on the plane ride home from France, from USSF president Carlos Cordeiro. He suggested a visit to both the White House and Capitol Hill; Rapinoe and another player reiterated they didn’t want to meet with Trump. Rapinoe would like to visit Congress with her team, but she doesn’t think U.S. Soccer is willing to organize a trip that skips the White House, with the World Cup coming to the U.S. in 2026. The team rep says ’26 “has absolutely zero bearing” on the issue.)

Obama, AOC, CNN. . . Rapinoe has a name for all of this. Her “newfound fame.” When she travels, she enters what her teammates have dubbed “IncogPinoe” mode, often slipping on a Supreme ballcap with a hidden message stitched in white thread on white canvas: f— you. It’s her way of poking fun at this temporary status; she knows how easily the cheers can turn to boos.

Megan Rapinoe is Sportsperson of the Year, though, not because of her newfound fame but because of how she’s handled it. She owned the biggest moment of her life and silenced all the doubts. Except, perhaps, her own.

***

It’s early November and Rapinoe is standing on a frosty field in Greenwich, Conn., popping cough drops to combat a cold she picked up after having spent maybe three days at home in the last month. She and Rachael held a soccer clinic in Farming­ville, N.Y., last night; today they have two more sold-out sessions, 175 kids each, before Megan will rush to catch a flight to Columbus for the last national team camp of the year. Denise and the twins’ Aunt Melissa are working the check-in desk, and there’s no security here—which is fine, except when it comes to Megan separating from the crowd for a bathroom break, which proves more challenging than getting one past Van Veenendaal in Lyon.

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Erick W. Rasco

Away from this chaos, one dad sits in the bleachers, talking on a cellphone while Rapinoe guides girls and boys through a shooting station, and his words remind an eavesdropping interloper of what preceded All of this. “. . . When Megan was kneeling,” the man says, “it was a big deal. . . .”

It’s hard to imagine now, but Rapinoe SC almost went under after Megan joined Colin Kaepernick in protesting police brutality and systemic racism by taking a knee during the national anthem in 2016. A youth club that was hosting a clinic near D.C. that fall felt compelled to request security for its event, fearful of protesters. (No protestors showed.) Enrollment and merchandise sales nosedived. “Maybe those parents are kicking themselves now,” Rapinoe shrugs.

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Erick W. Rasco

In Greenwich the sun peeks out and a swarm descends on the star instructor. Rapinoe waves over some high school field hockey players who’ve been hovering nervously, while off to another side a soccer mom coaches up her young daughter to approach for a picture. (“It’s now or never!”) The girls gush thank-yous, and Rapinoe thanks them back.

Megan remembers what it was like sitting with Rachael in the Stanford Stadium stands for the 1999 Women’s World Cup semifinal, watching in awe as the U.S. beat Brazil en route to its second trophy. But, for the most part, female athletes were invisible when Rapinoe was growing up. The posters she had in her room were all of Michael Jordan. The point of these camps is not to teach the kids some magical skill that will land them on the national team. It’s to be visible. Now, gathering her campers at midfield before she leaves for Columbus, Rapinoe opens up the session to questions. Which is how we land on fear.

“My biggest fear is claustrophobia, being stuck in small places,” Rapinoe says. “And also that people will think I’m a fraud.”

On one hand, Rapinoe is very much the person captured, post–World Cup, on U.S. goalkeeper Ashlyn Harris’s rollicking Instagram story: standing on a parade float in lower Manhattan, trophy in one hand, bottle of bubbly in the other, announcing, “I deserve this!” But there’s also a part of her that is deeply uncomfortable with all the accolades and attention over her outspokenness. Following the Greenwich camp, in a hotel lobby in Ohio, after one wheel on her suitcase finally gives out from months of travel, she explains, “I never want to be seen as trying to leverage something for personal gain. A lot of the stuff I talk about has a personal benefit. Equal pay. Even kneeling with Kaepernick, there was a lot of personal gain from that.”

For Kaepernick, kneeling during the national anthem meant, seemingly, the end of his career. For Rapinoe, it was a rebirth of hers, eventually. And she wrestles with those outcomes. Not that she ever could have guessed how things would play out.

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Kaepernick’s peaceful protest first caught the eye of the nation in August 2016. Rapinoe joined nine days later, before a game with her NWSL club, Seattle Reign. “He needs support,” she remembers thinking, “and I can help.” That September she warned U.S. teammates: She would kneel again before a friendly against Thailand, and she knew it might be uncomfortable for them. “All of us were a little timid about it,” says defender Ali Krieger, who supported Rapinoe but told her she wouldn’t join in. “We didn’t want to lose our jobs, and we weren’t sure how U.S. Soccer was going to react, how the country was going to react. She took all of that criticism.”

When U.S. Soccer released a statement during the Thailand match saying that players and coaches were expected to stand for the anthem “as part of the privilege to represent your country,” and when Rapinoe was benched or kept off the roster for friendlies in October and November, and when again she was left off the roster for the ­SheBelieves Cup the following spring, yes, she worried that it all spelled the end of her days as a U.S. player. At the time coach Jill Ellis chalked up the moves to roster churn and to the right ACL tear that Rapinoe was still rehabbing. But Rapinoe insists “that’s not the reason I was not on those rosters.” She says the decisions were never fully explained, but the time line married precisely: She didn’t play again for the national team until after the federation passed a rule stating that all players “shall stand respectfully” for the anthem. (Ellis, who stepped down from her U.S. job in July, maintains she made “football decisions” without any direction from the federation. “Was [kneeling] the appropriate thing to do in a national team jersey? I didn’t know,” Ellis says. “But I certainly understood it, and in no way was I saying, You can’t do it.”)

In the end, “it just so happens that I came back with a vengeance, better than I had ever been,” Rapinoe says. “And then it was like, Well, you are stuck with me now.”

****

Denise Rapinoe is making the rounds at Jack’s Grill on a recent Wednesday night. After helping out at her daughters’ camps, she later followed Megan to New York City, where mother and daughter attended Glamour’s Woman of the Year awards. Now she’s back home in Redding, Calif., at this dimly lit, 81-year-old steakhouse with linoleum floors and tin ceilings.

A group of women ask Denise to see her photos from the Glamour event, and they coo over the black lace dress Denise found at Nordstrom, over Megan’s Gucci ensemble, over the picture they posed for with Charlize Theron. “You must be so proud,” one woman says, squeezing Denise’s hand.

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Proud Mom smiles and slips her phone back into a pocket of her black pants. Then she pulls out her pad and pen and takes an order at the next table.

Denise began waitressing here when Megan and Rachael were 22 months old, working nights while her husband, Jim, a contractor, worked days. On Tuesdays, her day off, she would drive the twins 2½ hours each way to their club soccer practice near Sacramento.

Today Megan is an international star, one of the most famous athletes in the world, but growing up Denise made sure to tell her daughters You’re not the s— just because you’re good at sports. Later, as a senior at Foothill High, Megan was voted Most Likely to be Famous, but she was also the kind of kid who wrote her assistant principal a lengthy thank-you note at graduation.

Denise and Jim have been asked about Megan’s origin story enough times over the past six months that they have a rotation of anecdotes. Among them: the middle-school assembly where Megan gave a rousing speech about each of the grades coming together, like a hot dog folded between the sides of the bun; or the time in fifth grade when she and Rachael stood up to eighth-grade bullies on the playground. But the most salient aspect of Rapinoe’s upbringing doesn’t fit into a tidy narrative. She was part of a big, messy and (eventually) politically divided American family.

Together Denise and Jim raised seven children, not all their own. Denise has a son and daughter, Michael and Jenny, from a previous marriage; then came Brian and the twins. They also took in Denise’s youngest sister, CeCé, after their parents died, in 1981, and Brian’s son, Austin, who needed a home when Brian struggled with drug addiction.

Redding is firmly in the red part of Northern California, such that when Rapinoe knelt during the national anthem, the owner of Jack’s, spurred on by disapproving patrons, took down the photos of Denise’s daughter that a bartender had hung at the restaurant.

Even Jim admits, “I wasn’t thrilled” with Megan’s kneeling. He was still hurt, though, by all the hate mail he received, all the people calling his daughter unpatriotic. He and his father, Jack, both served in the Army. And he has a cousin, John, he points out, who served in Vietnam and remains a huge supporter of Megan. Her right to protest, Jim says, is “what he fought for.” (Megan: “I don’t understand the [idea] that it’s un-American to criticize your country. That’s what an open democracy is about—civil discourse and being able to protest. Clearly, we are not perfect. Until we address the problems we have, it is not going to be better.”)

Over the years, all the differing viewpoints have allowed Rapinoe to grow more comfortable with uncomfortable conversations. When she told her mother she was gay, in college, she thought about everything from Denise’s perspective, knowing Mom would need time to wrap her head around this new reality. As Denise recalls, “She said, ‘Mom, I get it. Things are going to look different from what you thought, and you have to grieve that.’ That was really helpful.”

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In 2016, after the November presidential election in which Jim voted for Trump, Megan and Rachael refused to talk to their father, outside of a happy-birthday text, until finally they came home for the family’s traditional Italian-sauce dinner on Christmas Eve. Eventually the wine got flowing and everyone engaged in a heated living-room debate that lasted for hours, but by the end of the night everyone said “I love you” and went to bed.

“I’m thankful I have this understanding,” Rapinoe says, “from the place I’m from, from the career and the life I’ve had, the things I’ve been able to do, the people I’ve known . . . the brother I’ve had,” meaning Brian, with his dependency issues. “It’s all given me this full view. I’m from Trump country. But I’m able to travel the world and live in very liberal places now. I am sort of in all the worlds at once.”

Brian, five years older than the twins, is the one who set up cones in the yard to teach them how to dribble, whose games first mesmerized the future World Player of the Year. The girls were in second grade when he started using drugs; they were 10 when he first got in trouble. Later, Jim had the radio on one morning during breakfast when they all heard a bulletin: Brian Rapinoe has been arrested for burglary. Other times, the girls’ achievements would appear in the sports section of the local paper while their brother was written up in the news section the same day. “It was all out there,” Denise says. “The good, the bad, the dirty.”

Now 39, Brian watched his little sister’s first two World Cups, in 2011 and ’15, from prison, his drug addiction and related criminal offenses having consumed most of his adult life. This summer, though, he was able to cheer her on from a transitional facility in San Diego, where he finished out his latest sentence in a reentry program. “Being able to watch the World Cup outside of bars,” Rachael says, “meant a lot to him and to our family.”

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Simon Bruty

In early August, two weeks before he was paroled, Brian secured a 12-hour pass to travel to a victory-tour game at the Rose Bowl, and Michael drove him up. Megan wasn’t playing that afternoon (she was nursing the same left Achilles injury that’s nagging her today; just old age, she says), but at the team hotel before the match she reunited with her brother for the first time in more years than she could remember. Nine, maybe?

Looking back on that visit, Rapinoe wipes at her eyes, but she pushes forward. The subject is not off-limits. “It’s fully on-limits,” she says. In an era when everything can feel over-filtered, over-curated, she doesn’t want her life story to be just the highlights. The raw footage links her to others with loved ones battling addiction; it has shaped her opinions on the need for prison reform. “Being able to understand these different perspectives, it maybe gives some white people incentive to care about these things. . . . It’s given me a tremendous amount of empathy and understanding.”

When it’s suggested that empathy—this ability to see the world as others are experiencing it—may be something of a theme here, Rapinoe seizes the chance to lighten the mood. “Oh, that’s good,” she says, dryly. “You don’t think I’m a psychopath.”

***

Today Rapinoe stands during the national anthem, hands crossed behind her back instead of over her heart, reflecting silently. Sometimes, she says, the names of people of color who have unjustly lost their lives run through her mind. Trayvon Martin. Michael Brown. Tamir Rice. She stops herself. She doesn’t want to seem like she’s leveraging their names. “But I think about Why?” she continues.

For her the anthem is no longer a reflexive experience, Rapinoe says, “whereas I feel like most people who put their hand over their heart and sing, it’s a totally unconscious act.” She thinks about her decision three years ago to kneel and walks through all the subsequent possibilities, knowing Kaepernick has not had the chance to return to his sport.

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Harrison Barden-USA TODAY Sports

“I considered [continuing to kneel],” she says. “It’s still something I’m a little conflicted about. I don’t know what would have happened [if I’d continued]. Can you do the same thing without kneeling? Did I make my point? How long do you need to protest? It certainly was better for me to stop kneeling. So, that’s a little, like—” Rapinoe scrunches up her face. As she graces magazine covers, as she appears on stages and fields and podiums across the world, she carries the question with her: Am I doing enough?

Several hours after pondering this she finds herself at Detroit Metropolitan Airport, on her way home to Seattle, when a passenger walks over to say hello. Jen Fry runs her own social justice education firm, working with athletic departments and conferences across the country, and here she introduces herself to Rapinoe, explaining that her job tackles the intersection of race and sports. “Really, there’s no intersection,” Rapinoe replies, meaning: You can’t talk about one without the other; they’re intertwined.

Fry agrees, hands over a business card and everyone’s on her way. . . . Only, a few minutes later, Fry looks up to see Rapinoe walking back toward her. Can we chat a little more? What more can I do as a white person? How can I best use the platform I have?

“I told her she should talk about her whiteness, and name it”—normalize it—Fry recalls. “Homegirl knelt in support of Kaepernick, and she still was like, What more can I do? That shows: You don’t have to know everything to do something.”

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Brad Penner-USA TODAY Sports

But part of Rapinoe’s power is that she typically does seem to know everything, to say the right thing (with a few f-bombs mixed in), to deliver off-field moments as memorable as those on. At the Glamour event she thanked Kaepernick, whose courage lit the path she followed, and acknowledged the role that white privilege plays in her being feted as an outspoken World Cup champion while he remains unemployed. Named last week as the winner of the second-ever Ballon D’Or Féminin award, she challenged the likes of Cristiano Ronaldo and Lionel Messi to join her fight against racism and sexism in soccer. And on a September night in Milan, when she was handed her FIFA award, she used her platform to call attention to Raheem Sterling (of Manchester City) and Kalidou Koulibaly (Napoli), two players, among many, for whom the cost of playing the game they love is enduring racist chants; and Iran’s “Blue Girl,” who disguised herself as a man in order to attend a soccer game, and who then set herself on fire to avoid charges for violating a ban against women in stadiums; and MLS player Collin Martin, then the only openly gay male in America’s big five professional sports.

“I couldn’t believe it,” says Martin. “It’s probably her greatest personal achievement as a soccer player, and she decided to talk about others.”

That ability to see the bigger picture is something Rapinoe’s teammates have experienced more personally. Two years ago Rapinoe and Bird were in Turks and Caicos on vacation with a group of friends that included fellow national teamers Harris and Krieger, who by then had been dating for several years, when over dinner one night the conversation turned to the idea of coming out. Harris and Krieger had until then kept their relationship out of the public eye, but that was starting to feel inauthentic, and they were wrestling with the pros and cons of being open about it all.

“Megan said something,” Krieger recalls, “that I will never forget: that there are young kids who are too scared to be themselves, and if we keep hiding, it doesn’t make it normal to be in a lesbian relationship.” (The couple announced their engagement in People magazine this year, and when they wed later this month, Rapinoe will be Harris’s maid of honor.)

Denise Rapinoe watched her own daughter go through the same process years ago, opening her true self to the world. She’s seen Megan go from an awkward preteen grappling with her identity, to the first prominent women’s soccer player to come out, to an American icon. “She’s the voice so many people don’t have,” Denise says, tearing up. “It’s hard to be ­really open and vulnerable like [Megan does]. There are a lot of people who probably want to, but they just don’t have the voice, haven’t found it yet. Megan has it now.”

****

Thirty minutes before she poses for yet another magazine shoot—Marie Claire, Glamour, GQ—Rapinoe is touching up her famous coif with Walmart dye. Ever wonder why the color varies between pink (it started, in May, as Pravana Neon Pink, at a Seattle salon) and purple, sometimes with a brown undergrowth? She’s a busy lady, and hair upkeep is not high on her list.

The Olympics are in seven months, and at times soccer feels like the furthest thing from Rapinoe’s mind. It’s easy to see why no women’s team has ever followed a World Cup win with an Olympic gold. “That’s a frustrating thing,” Rapinoe says. “Through our [U.S. Soccer contract] we are not able to secure our financial futures. In order to [do that] you have to win everything, catch lightning in a bottle, like this summer. Then you can blow up. But to secure your financial future you have to undevote yourself to your sport, which does not put you in a position to catch lighting in a bottle again.”

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Jeffery A. Salter

About that lightning in a Walmart bottle. Denise’s first thought on her daughter’s pink do was that it looked like cotton candy. She didn’t like it. But then she thought about it, and something came to her. “You’ve been in the trenches for so long,” she said. “You take on a lot of heavy stuff, and this is your way of being light.” Rapinoe doesn’t know if it was that deep—not consciously, at least—but she filed it away as she’s tried to make sense of the craziest year of her life.

Back in the studio, pink-haired Megan Rapinoe is gliding in a gauzy Valentino gown with black Maison Margiela shoes, a light moment made more enjoyable by all the heavy ones. Her brother . . . Kaepernick. . . . The lawsuit, which is headed for a May trial after mediation talks in August broke down. . . . Trump, which she says her experience kneeling “positioned me perfectly” to handle. . . .

She FaceTimes Denise and texts a photo to Harris, who replies, “You look like a goddam goddess.” Then she puts down the phone and a photographer asks her to pose with a prop sledgehammer, the concept being that she’s smashing the patriarchy. Someone suggests that she roar, too, the way she does after a goal. She dislikes this idea. The face and the sledgehammer, she scoffs, say the same thing.

“What about a smirk?” she asks. “It’s kind of like a little, F— you, I’m coming.”

She knows the look well. Everyone does by now. Rapinoe first struck The Pose after a goal in an April friendly against Australia. It was her way of asking fans, “Are you not entertained?” As the year progressed, though, it grew to take on greater meaning, purpose, prominence. Maybe you saw self-love, or defiance, or something else entirely. Today, even Rapinoe struggles to explain The Pose. It’s against her nature, after all, to see things in their simplest terms.

“It’s clearly more than a celebration,” she says, but “I’m still trying to articulate exactly the way I feel in it. This is me in the full. We’re not going to be a certain way for anyone. This is me, and you know you love it.”

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Imani Dorsey will get an opportunity to show off her skills to the new USWNT coach. (Photo courtesy of Sky Blue)

Three Sky Blue FC players — Imani Dorsey, Sarah Killion and Paige Monaghan — Wednesday were named to the 24-player roster for a U.S. women’s national team identification camp that will take place in Bradenton, Fla. Dec. 9-14.

Those three National Women’s Soccer League players have never played for the USWNT. Dorsey is a defender, Killion a midfielder and Monaghan a forward.

Head coach Vlatko Andonovski’s second training camp roster – he officially came on board on Oct. 28 – will not include any players from the U.S.’s World Cup team.

This event is being staged to evaluate younger players from the college game and those who have performed well in the National Women’s Soccer League or in pro leagues abroad, with the goal of deepening the player pool and positioning players for possible future call-ups in 2020.

The roster

GOALKEEPERS (2): Jane Campbell (Houston Dash; 3/0), Casey Murphy (Reign FC; 0/0)

DEFENDERS (9): Maycee Bell (UNC; 0/0), Malia Berkely (Florida State; 0/0), Imani Dorsey (Sky Blue FC; 0/0), Emily Fox (UNC; 3/0), Naomi Girma (Stanford; 0/0), Sarah Gorden (Chicago Red Stars; 0/0), Hailie Mace (Rosengård FC, SWE; 3/0), Kiara Pickett (Stanford; 0/0), Margaret Purce (Portland Thorns FC; 1/0)

MIDFIELDERS (7): Danielle Colaprico (Chicago Red Stars; 2/0), Vanessa DiBernardo (Chicago Red Stars; 0/0), Jordan DiBiasi (Washington Spirit; 0/0), Sarah Killion (Sky Blue FC; 0/0), Kristie Mewis (Houston Dash; 15/1), Brianna Pinto (UNC; 0/0), Ashley Sanchez (UCLA; 0/0)

FORWARDS (6): Bethany Balcer (Reign FC; 0/0), Madison Haley (Stanford; 0/0), Ashley Hatch (Washington Spirit; 2/0), Paige Monaghan (Sky Blue FC; 0;0), Sophia Smith (Stanford; 0/0), Ally Watt (Texas A&M; 0/0)

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The United States Soccer Federation released the list of nominees for the 2019 National Soccer Hall of Fame class on Wednesday afternoon.

Individuals are nominated in three categories: players, veterans and builders. Forty-four former players have been nominated under the player category, with 17 making the ballot for the first time.

Additionally, 14 individuals have been nominated in the veteran category, while nine are in the builder category.

The National Soccer Hall of Fame was established in 1950 and resides in Frisco, Texas at the newly-renovated Toyota Stadium.

Here are the nominees in each category – a single asterisk indicates that it’s their first time on the ballot, while a double asterisk indicates that it’s an individual’s final year of eligibility.

Players
David Beckham

Gregg Berhalter

Carlos Bocanegra

Shannon Boxx*

Edson Buddle*

Rachel Buehler Van Hollebeke*

Lori Chalupny*

Lauren Cheney Holiday*

Steve Cherundolo

Brian Ching

Kenny Cooper*

Jeff Cunningham

Todd Dunivant*

Kevin Hartman

Frankie Hejduk

Thierry Henry

Stuart Holden

Eddie Johnson

Chris Klein

Karina LeBlanc*

Amy LePeilbet

Eddie Lewis

Lori Lindsey

Stephanie Lopez Cox*

Pablo Mastroeni

Clint Mathis

Heather Mitts

Jaime Moreno

Ben Olsen

Pat Onstad

Heath Pearce*

Troy Perkins*

Steve Ralston

Cat Reddick Whitehill*

Donovan Ricketts*

Leigh Ann Robinson Brown*

Tony Sanneh**

Homare Sawa*

Kate Sobrero Markgraf

Bakary Soumare*

Taylor Twellman**

Aly Wagner

Abby Wambach*

Josh Wolff

Veterans
Chris Armas

Mike Burns

John Doyle

Lorrie Fair

Linda Hamilton

Mary Harvey

Chris Henderson

Lori Henry

Dominic Kinnear

Shep Messing

Tiffany Roberts

Mike Sorber

Greg Vanney

Tisha Venturini – Hoch

Builders
Joe Cummings

Sunil Gulati

Sandra Hunt

Tim Leiweke

Francisco Marcos

Thom Meredith

Lothar Osiander

Kevin Payne

George Strawbridge

***

The voting committee includes all past and present men’s and women’s full national team coaches, all active MLS and NWSL head coaches with a minimum of four years of experience as a head coach at the highest professional level in the United States, MLS and NWSL management representatives, MLS Commissioner Don Garber and NWSL President Amanda Duffy, plus other executives in U.S. Soccer, Hall of Famers, and designated media members.

Each voter can select up to 10 candidates per ballot. Any player appearing on at least 66.7 percent of ballots will earn election, while any player who does not appear on at least five percent of ballots will be removed from voting contention until they qualify for the Veteran ballot.

Veteran nominees need to be on at least 50 percent of ballots to secure election into the Hall of Fame.

A separate screening committee comprised of the U.S. Soccer Director of Officials; MLS and NWSL management representatives; MLS Commissioner; NWSL Executive Director; U.S. Soccer Secretary General; U.S. Soccer President; all Hall of Famers votes for the Builder category.

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July 25, 2019, Des Moines, Iowa. In many ways, it was a race day like any other for Allyson Felix, the most decorated woman in Olympic track and field history. Here at the U.S. outdoor championships, Felix’s movements before her first-round heat in the 400 meters were practiced: She waved and smiled, then dropped her eyes to focus on the lane in front of her. She shook out each of her legs in turn, shifted her weight from side to side, nodded her head, glanced up at the crowd. This time, though, the announcers had a surprise for her, an introduction that included a special new honorific: “Camryn’s mom.”

Eight months earlier, Felix went in for a routine pregnancy checkup and was diagnosed with severe preeclampsia; her daughter, Camryn, was delivered not long after, via emergency Caesarean section, eight weeks early. Felix thinks of this as the moment her life changed—watching her premature baby fight for her own, over 29 days in the NICU. Now, Felix was stepping onto the starting line for the first time in more than a year. Her plain black racing tank and shorts had no visible logos, no Nike swoosh. For the first time since 2003, she—Allyson Felix, six-time Olympic gold medalist, 11-time world champion, by all accounts an unimpeachable star in her sport—was racing unsponsored. She was in a stalemate in negotiations with Nike, her sponsor since ’10; the company, she says, wanted to pay her 70% less after childbirth and refused to implement maternity protections in her contract.

“I had a lot of nerves on that starting line,” she says. “I didn’t know what to expect. I’d never done this before. I was putting myself out there at nationals and feeling really vulnerable. And when they introduced me—my mind was so consumed with everything else. But with the crowd welcoming me back that way, it was really special.”

Then, the crack of the starting gun. Over the next 52 seconds, Felix ran a measured race, shaking off a bit of the rust that had accumulated over the previous year, and finished fourth. Much of the commentary around her performance was about whether she would qualify for worlds, or for the Tokyo Olympics in 2020. But she got a taste of what it was like to race again; she knew what she was capable of.

allyson-felix-track-running
Kirby Lee-USA TODAY Sports

Two months later in Doha, Allyson Felix would make history, breaking Usain Bolt’s record for the most world championship titles ever by earning her 12th gold, in the mixed 4×400 meter relay. And she would win another on top of that, for the women’s 4×400-meter relay; she ran the fastest split in the prelims. With that, the tenor of the commentary turned. It became something else: a celebration of athlete mothers who are proving that they can still achieve, and achieve at the highest level, despite sponsors sending the message—loud and clear, through diminished paychecks and stalled contract negotiations—that they don’t believe in athletes who have had babies.

The year 2019, Felix says, has been all about the fight—for her health, for her daughter, for women and mothers, and for what she and other working athlete mothers deserve.

It was the year of #DreamMaternity. Track and field stars including Felix, Nia Ali and Jamaica’s Shelly-Ann Fraser-Pryce all stormed to victory with world championship gold after becoming mothers: Ali in the 100-meter hurdles, 16 months postpartum; Fraser-Pryce in the 100 meters, two years postpartum. Serena Williams, who confronted serious complications with childbirth two years ago, roared back to four Grand Slam tennis finals starting at 10 months postpartum; she is once again tantalizingly close to tying Margaret Court’s record of 24 major titles.

serena-williams-daughter-selfie
Chuck Burton/AP

In October, WNBA All-Star Skylar Diggins-Smith tweeted that she was pregnant during the 2018 season, in which she finished in the league’s top 15 for points, assists, steals and minutes per game, and then gave birth to her son in the off-season. “Didn’t tell a soul,” the Dallas Wings’ guard wrote. But she said that she took two months away because of postpartum depression, “with limited resources to help me be successful mentally/physically.” In November, six months after her son was born, she scored a team-high 19 points for the U.S. women’s national team in its exhibition game win over Texas A&M. It was an emotional return.

This was the year that many of these athletes spoke out loud for women’s rights and contract protections during and after pregnancy. To be specific: They did not want to be punished for starting a family, and they wanted better supports put in place for working moms—the hidden realities that actually make it possible for them to perform at the top of their game.

There has always been silence surrounding maternity in sport. The situation in a sport like track and field or tennis is especially fraught, given that athletes depend almost entirely on sponsorship and prize money for income, versus salaries in professional team sports like basketball or soccer. But even salaried players often lose a percentage of income during pregnancy, childbirth and the months that follow, with specific policies varying by sport. The WNBA, for example, pays players who are out on maternity leave at least 50% of their salary, as part of the league’s collective bargaining agreement.

Fear—of losing income and professional careers that they have spent their whole lives building—has led many women to hide their pregnancies, to keep their experiences quiet, and to return to competition as quickly as possible. They pretended that they never left, never became mothers, never had to carry all the weight of responsibilities related to that role in their lives.

Felix had privately felt that fear. But in May, she joined Olympic runners Kara Goucher and Alysia Montaño in speaking out in two high-profile New York Times op-eds about the lack of maternity protection in athletes’ contracts. All three runners had been sponsored by Nike at one point; all three were penalized financially during their pregnancies, despite the fact that Nike ran highly-praised ads claiming to support and elevate women at all stages of their careers—including motherhood.

***

Montaño is famous for being “the pregnant runner.” In 2014 she ran the 800 meters at the U.S. track and field championships while eight months pregnant, her signature yellow flower tucked behind her ear, before a rapt, cheering crowd. She did the same thing in ’17 while five months pregnant. She said it was galling that Nike told young girls to “Dream Crazy,” and then paused athletes’ contracts (and by extension their pay) when they decided to become mothers, and helped create a system that rushed them back to competition in a way that was hazardous to their health. In ’15, Montaño—who also saw her pay reduced during pregnancy under Asics—won two national championship medals, at six and 10 months postpartum—but she had the torn abs to go along with them. “How about when you tell my daughter you can achieve anything,” she told The New York Times, “you back it up?” And so #DreamMaternity was born.

kara-goucher-son
Seth Wenig/AP

Goucher, the three-time NCAA champion, Olympic distance runner, and newly minted ultramarathoner, has been a vocal advocate for what is necessary for women to succeed in running. While she was pregnant with her son, Colt, in 2010, Goucher worked to be an active, visible figure on Nike’s behalf. “Photo shoots, magazine interviews, 20-some appearances when I was pregnant,” Goucher says. “I ran every single day. To be honest, that’s when my popularity boomed. That’s when I was the most requested track and field athlete at Nike, they told me. I was relatable.” Imagine her surprise, then, when Nike stopped paying her—and didn’t tell her. She found out through her financial adviser, after a missed quarterly payment.

At the time, hers was a single-income family; she and her husband, Adam Goucher, also a prominent Olympic runner, could not afford the suspension of pay for 18 months. Nike’s contracts are exclusive, which meant that she could not easily turn around and work for someone else. “I couldn’t believe it,” she says. “I loved Nike. They said, ‘We don’t pay you to tell your story. We pay you to run, and you’re not running. You have to get back into racing.’” After giving birth in September, she rushed back into training, to prepare for the Boston Marathon in April. During this time, Colt developed a lump in his neck.

“He had surgery on Wednesday; I had a race on Sunday. Looking back, it was crazy,” Goucher says, her voice breaking still more than nine years later. “I had no choice. I left my son in the hospital and went to train. In this time, I’m everywhere. I’m supposed to run Boston, but I’m not getting paid. It was so stressful.” She finally settled for six months without pay and an additional 12-month contract with a nondisclosure agreement. She developed hip pain that led to a stress fracture in her femur. She would go on to have hip pain for the rest of her career.

goucher-flanagan
Robert Beck

“I never want that to happen to someone else,” she says. “I never want someone to feel they have to rush back to superhuman level and have this happen. Why not have an athlete fall into a second pattern, with more appearances, 12 months to heal? Come back when you’re ready.”

As a female athlete, Goucher also paid a price in a different way: In 2015, she was a whistleblower on doping practices by coach Alberto Salazar in Nike’s now-dismantled Oregon Project, and was vilified for it. Five months after Colt was born, Salazar, unhappy with Goucher’s weight, pushed her to use a synthetic thyroid hormone, but she declined. People often asked why she and others—like Mary Cain, who recently came forward about similarly abusive treatment under Salazar—didn’t speak out earlier. Well, potential lawsuits because of NDAs; fear of retribution, of being blacklisted, of losing sponsorship. Goucher says she got death threats after going public. The list goes on. “Someone wrote, She’s not even pretty anymore,” Goucher says. “I had to laugh at that one.”

(Salazar has apologized in general terms, for hurting athletes with “callous or insensitive” comments, but he denies encouraging his athletes to take any banned substance or to maintain an unhealthy weight. He is currently serving a four-year ban for doping violations.)

Felix said that Goucher and Montaño were heroic. Though she was afraid, Felix watched and supported them, speaking out in her own op-ed 10 days later. She realized that she had to use her influence and push for change. “If not me,” she said, “then who?” Together, they amplified the message, bringing their sponsors to task. Several companies, including Burton Snowboards, Brooks Running and Nuun Hydration, quickly responded by writing pregnancy and postpartum recovery protections into athlete contracts. After a major public backlash, Nike announced an updated policy in August, removing performance-related contract reductions for pregnant athletes for a period of 18 consecutive months, starting eight months before a mother’s due date. A company spokesperson says the policy “ensure[s] no female athlete is adversely impacted financially for pregnancy.”

There’s no doubt that the movement to secure better working rights for athlete mothers is growing. But are companies and sports’ governing bodies doing enough?

On July 31, several days after her return to competition, Felix announced on The Today Show that she had become Athleta’s first sponsored athlete, “redefining what sponsorship looks like.” What exactly does that mean? “It means taking a holistic approach, instead of just one-dimensionally,” she says. “It’s supporting me as an athlete, but also as a mom and an activist. And it’s partnering with a company whose mission really aligns with my core belief of empowering women and girls—not just in winning medals, but also in creating change. That’s very unique. I would like to see more of that.” Her own experience inspired her to advocate for black maternal health: Black women are four times more likely to die in childbirth and twice as likely to have complications.

montano-athletes-moms-lead
Christian Petersen/Getty Images

In October, Montaño launched a new podcast called Keeping Track, in which she and two other Olympians, Molly Huddle and Roisin McGettigan, discuss women in sports and the issues confronting them. One of their earliest guests was Nia Ali, who talked about the nitty-gritty of being a working athlete mom: nursing and pumping on the road, negotiating sports contracts, parsing out USATF policies for accommodating families at meets.

The first time Ali became pregnant, she told Montaño, she was “scared s——-” about her contract. Nike found out; her contract was reduced, and she accepted it. In 2015, her son, Titus, was born; she came back the following year and won the world indoor title when he was 10 months and a silver medal at the Rio Olympics when he was a year old. The second time around, she was bolder in her negotiations with Nike. In the four years between her first and second child, Ali said that the contrast is “night and day.”

“Now, people are just rooting for you,” she says.

Goucher, 41, is now sponsored by Oiselle, a running apparel company founded by CEO Sally Bergesen, who herself has been outspoken when it comes to representing and supporting women in sports. The company is known for sponsoring women through pregnancy, most famously the distance runner Stephanie Bruce, now 35, who has only been getting faster since giving birth to her two children, ages four and five.

Goucher and Felix both agree that in an ideal world, the default sponsorship model would have maternity protections written in. Oiselle’s contracts have no performance-related requirements or reductions, so pregnancy has no adverse impact on an athlete’s income. “You have the fastest women in the world—if you rush them back to competition, you will shorten their careers because of injuries,” Goucher says. “It’s a chronic pattern. If we give them more time to recover, maybe then it’s six or seven more years of having this athlete working with you.”

Nike’s announced contract changes around maternity, Felix says, are a great first step. “Could they do more? For sure. As a leader in this industry, they can do that. They can start to create change and make this a norm.”

Her experiences at nationals and worlds with her daughter have convinced her that both sponsors and sports organizations have to do better. “Everybody loves when Cammy is around—they love her at the track, at the shoots,” she said. “That’s great. That’s about a story, to connect with female consumers. But I don’t think people think about how she gets there. Who is watching her when I’m training, or racing? As a nursing mother, if I have a roommate at worlds, how do I feed a child in the middle of the night? Out of pocket, I have to get another hotel room. Every small thing. Where do I wash my bottles? Where do I get hot water? There are so many more ways we can support our mothers who are also athletes.”

candace-parkers-daughter
The reality is that there are very few women in elite coaching, organizational or sports executive positions of power to understand firsthand what female athletes face on a daily basis. But the hope is as that changes, with increased institutional support and more women making decisions at the top echelons of sports, the continued success and longevity of female athletes will become the norm.

This past summer, the U.S. national women’s soccer team electrified viewers with its fourth World Cup victory, inspiring the crowd in the Stade de Lyon to erupt in a thunderous chant of “Equal pay! Equal pay!” The trial date for the lawsuit that members of the women’s team have brought against U.S. Soccer is set for May 2020. It seems fitting then that co-captain Alex Morgan is expecting a baby girl in the spring—and that she also has every intention to compete in the 2020 Olympics in Tokyo.

“There are so many women that have been able to come back to their respective sport after pregnancy and continue to have a successful family while playing their sport that they love at the highest level,” Morgan said last March, at the unveiling of a new soccer pitch in Gardena, Calif. U.S. women’s soccer has an impressive history when it comes to players coming back after becoming moms—Joy Fawcett, for one, who, after having three children from 1994 to 2001, famously played every minute of the ’95, ’99 and ’03 Women’s World Cups. Morgan’s plan is to follow in those footsteps, with her daughter in tow.

Felix is getting ready for 2020, too. But she’s a different person than she was a year ago. On Nov. 26, just two days before her daughter’s first birthday, Felix was in a reflective mood.

“As an athlete, I feel like I can face anything now,” she says. “I’m more grateful when I come to the track. I used to take myself for granted, even the ability to run. That’s not the case anymore. I have a new motivation. Before, everything was consumed by winning. Now it’s still that, but the purpose and drive—I’m always thinking of my daughter. I want to be able to tell her what this is like, what being a strong woman is like, overcoming adversity, having strong character—that’s so important to me now. It’s monumental. This is the most confident I’ve ever felt. I’ve been thrown out of my comfort zone, and I’ve had to adapt. And I’ve grown because of that.”

Goucher says she was defensive when she first became a mother, because she was afraid she wouldn’t be taken as seriously as a runner. “I downplayed that I was a mom,” she says. “Now we’re embracing that motherhood doesn’t weaken you—it adds to you being hardcore. Serena, Allyson, Alysia: We’re building on each other, lifting everyone else’s voices bigger and bigger, until you have to pay attention. It’s a turning point.”

Bonnie Tsui is a Bay Area-based journalist and the author of the new book, Why We Swim, which will be published by Algonquin Books in April 2020.