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Soccer Star Megan Rapinoe On Equal Pay, And What The U.S. Flag Means To Her

TERRY GROSS, HOST:

This is FRESH AIR. I'm Terry Gross. My guest, Megan Rapinoe, is an icon as a champion soccer player and as an activist. In 2019, after the U.S. national women's soccer team won their fourth World Cup, she was awarded the Golden Boot for top scorer and the Golden Ball for the tournament's best player. She's the former co-captain of the team. Rapinoe also helped her team win a gold medal at the 2012 Olympics. For a while, she was practically the only openly gay player on the U.S. women's national team, which put her in the spotlight as an LGBTQ activist. She was an early supporter of Black Lives Matter and was embroiled in controversy when she took a knee during the national anthem in 2016 in solidarity with Colin Kaepernick. She's fought for equal pay in women's soccer and was part of a lawsuit against the U.S. Soccer Federation. The team's claim about equal pay was dismissed, but the team is appealing the decision. Rapinoe is one of the women soccer players featured in a new documentary about the fight for equal pay called "LFG," which will start streaming on HBO Max tomorrow. I spoke with her last November, after the publication of her memoir "One Life." It was shortly after she announced her engagement to Sue Bird, a champion player in the WNBA. At the time, the Tokyo Olympics had been canceled and not yet rescheduled. But the Olympics are back on, and she's headed with the team to the games this summer.

(SOUNDBITE OF ARCHIVED NPR BROADCAST)

GROSS: Megan Rapinoe, welcome to FRESH AIR, and congratulations on your engagement. How much have things changed since you first came out, like, nearly 10 years ago?

MEGAN RAPINOE: Yeah, that's an interesting question. Thank you for the congratulations, of course. I think in so many ways, you know, we're further along and we're in a better place. And in so many ways, we're sort of exactly where we were. It's always a balance for me. I find that while it feels like we're so much further, you know, the fact that, you know, LGBTQ people have only been allowed to marry in this country for five years, that sort of stands in stark opposition to it. So on the one hand, I feel like we're going in the right direction. And on the other hand, I think we have a lot of work left to do.

GROSS: You've helped turn women's soccer into a very popular sport in the U.S., and you've helped pave the way for more equity in women's sports. Give us a sense of some of the disparities between how men and women have been paid in soccer and how they've been treated.

RAPINOE: The amount of money that we could possibly earn in our contract compared to the amount of money that the men could possibly earn in the contract is very different. I think a lot of - a lot is made about the guaranteed money in our contract and the different compensation structures that we have. But when you look at the possibility of money for each team, ours is vastly, vastly lower than the men.

GROSS: Yeah. And you had - you were on, like, a championship women's team and the men's team was a losing team, and they were getting paid so much more than you were.

RAPINOE: Yeah, yeah. And I think that was something that we felt that the court really didn't fully appreciate. We'll just say, you know, for round numbers' sake, if we captured 90% of our, you know, the total compensation available in our contract and, you know, the men only captured 50% of it, we earned about the same dollar for dollar amount. Meanwhile, we've won, you know, two World Cups. We've won nearly every friendly that we've played in. We've won all the tournaments. We've been very successful, both, you know, commercially marketing-wise, sponsorships and branding and all of that, and obviously been very successful on the field. And so it's kind of the, you know, work twice as hard or win twice as much or be twice as successful. And to get paid, you know, about the same dollar for dollar amount, that's sort of at the heart of pay inequity and gender discrimination we feel.

GROSS: I think people have been pretty dismissive of women's sports, and it's always taken a secondary place. But I think, you know, like women like you and women like Sue Bird are really bringing women into sports in a way that they can actually, like, identify with the players and see themselves on the field in the way that they can't quite with men's sports. And I wonder, like, what that means to you to be a part of that.

RAPINOE: I mean, I think we are in a big way much more relatable. I think with women, because our sports are smaller and we're not seen as these celebrities quite yet, I think the accessibility has been so much more readily available to fans, you know, to admirers or even to brands. I think that they understand that there's a level of, I guess, intimacy that you can get to with a female athlete that maybe you're not going to get to with a male athlete, which I think has helped us, to be honest. I think it's helping to grow our fan base and helping to make us more relatable.

But I think the balance has to be there as well. I don't think, you know, having us have everybody think that they can just come up to us all the time and, like, you know, we're their best friends and everything is necessarily the way either. But I think they see in us a collective struggle to be seen and to be valued and to be appreciated fairly. I think they see us as not only fighting for ourselves for a better place or a more equitable place in the world but really for everyone. And so that sort of forces women into a position where we have to be activists, where we have to be role models because we are actually fighting for a better world, yes, for ourselves but, in turn, I think for everybody else as well.

GROSS: So, you know, we've been talking about women's soccer and some of the inequities in, like, men's and women's sports. When you started playing soccer when you were around 6, there wasn't, like, a girls team for you to be part of, so you and your twin sister became members of the boys team. How did it feel for you as a girl to be on the boys team? 'Cause, you know, another thing you say in your book is that you don't think you ever dominated a team the way you dominated that boys team when you were a child.

RAPINOE: (Laughter).

GROSS: And, you know, I'm also wondering, like, did the boys really appreciate that? Like, she's really great, and she's on our team. Or did they think it was weird or maybe even uncomfortable that a girl was, like, beating them? You know, you were on the same team, but you were better than they were.

RAPINOE: You know, I don't think I ever really, really thought about it, probably until, you know, fifth or sixth grade - I think that's when, you know, gender lines are drawn more clearly - because, you know, all growing up, we played with each other, we played with boys. It was, you know, during recess, during, you know, intramural sports or whatever it may be - sort of our town sports. It was just kind of, like, what it was. And I think from a very early age, my sister, Rachael, and I were always the best. Like, there was no question. So it wasn't like, you know, we were coming up against these boys and kind of holding our own or kind of not. We were kind of kicking everyone's butt. So I don't think the boys even looked at us like, oh, these are girls, and we're not supposed to lose to girls. It's kind of like, well, yeah, those are the twins, and, like, they're better than everyone.

It was interesting, actually. I think that we were maybe 11 or 12. We played on a boys team that traveled to Sacramento - so we're from a pretty small town in Northern California called Redding; it's about 2 1/2 hours' drive from Sacramento - to a town that, you know, I think because they have so many kids and the sports programs were a lot better, the soccer programs were a lot better, they were split up by boys and girls, I'm sure, a lot earlier. But ours was kind of like, well, let's just get the best, you know, 20 kids that we can find, and we'll just work with that.

But the parents on the other team and even the boys on the other team were really kind of taken aback by it. You know, comments coming from the parents on the sideline - oh, don't let that girl beat you. Or the boys, you could just tell, on the other team, were just uncomfortable with the fact that they were being beaten or being bettered by a girl. But that was kind of the first time I sort of realized, like, oh, these parents are not used to this, and clearly this is something that they should look a little deeper into 'cause they seem quite upset.

GROSS: My guest is women's soccer star Megan Rapinoe. We'll talk more after a break. This is FRESH AIR.

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GROSS: This is FRESH AIR. Let's get back to my interview with soccer star Megan Rapinoe. She's featured in the new documentary "LFG" about the ongoing fight for equal pay for the U.S. women's national soccer team. It starts streaming on HBO Max tomorrow. Her memoir is called "One Life."

(SOUNDBITE OF ARCHIVED NPR BROADCAST)

GROSS: You write that you knew you were never going to be the fastest player or the strongest player, so you had to develop a style rooted in something other than beating people through physical force. Do you think that - thinking that you wouldn't be, like, the strongest or the fastest helped you develop your footwork?

RAPINOE: Oh, yeah, definitely. I think it helped me develop not just my footwork, but my awareness in the game. Some people can outrun everyone. Some people are better understanding spatial awareness. I think I was good at that. I think I was understanding, you know, how I could make space for myself in a sort of a strategic way. I mean, I think I'm athletic enough, obviously, to be able to, you know, run fast and do things, but I think I just developed other parts of my game that no matter how fast you are, how strong you are, you can still be really successful if you're creative with the game, if you have good vision, if you know how to get open, if you know how to pull defenses apart, if you can anticipate all of those kinds of things.

GROSS: So I want to ask you about one of your most spectacular plays, which a lot of us have seen either when it happened or on YouTube 'cause the video went viral. It was in 2011. You kick the ball across the field - a big, amazing cross - and then Abby Wambach headed it into the goal. So I want you to describe it from your perspective.

RAPINOE: We're in Dresden, Germany. It's 2011. This is my first World Cup. The game is going very strange from the outset. The crowd, actually, was quite neutral. I think whenever we travel, we generally get a pretty pro-American crowd. There's been very few times where we haven't had that. But the game was weird. We had gotten a red card in, like, the 60th minute, maybe, so one of our players was ejected. I think we were losing at the time, maybe 2-1.

And it was - you just felt a weird sort of energy in the crowd. I think around the time that our player got ejected, Brazil - they started, you know, wasting time and using, you know, different tactics. But I think they were just trying to waste time and get to the end of the game. So we end up tying it up. We end up going into overtime. They score in overtime. And you can kind of feel the crowd turn on them as they start to, you know, have more antics and try to waste more time and this and that. So there was some whistling happening.

And we get down to the very final minutes of the game. I mean, we're already past the time. I think it was in the 122nd minute. And I'm really just thinking to myself, like, we're going to lose. Like, oh, my God. Like, we're going to lose. The ball - you know, I'm looking at the clock. It's down in our end. We've just, you know, taken the ball from the Brazilians. And then I'm just like, we're going to be, you know, the U.S. team that goes out the earliest that we've ever had. And it's just, you know, tragic.

We start to dribble up the field. It comes across to the middle. Carli Lloyd gets the ball. And I'm just thinking, like, it seemed like she held onto the ball and dribbled the ball for five hours, but it was probably, you know, three seconds. It finally comes over to me. And in all of its sense, it was just a Hail Mary. I didn't see Abby, but I knew she better be there. (Laughter) I was like, I don't know where else you would be. But you better be somewhere around where I'm trying to kick it. And I just heaved it. I just kicked it literally as hard as I could. You have this insane, sort of last-second goal, which very rarely happens in soccer. I mean, essentially, that - the game was over. We went into - you know, we tied it up, went into overtime and won in penalties. But that was sort of the deciding moment. And it was just an exceptional moment of emotion, I think, for everybody to feel at the same time, from the players on the field to the crowd, to the people back home. It was just insane.

GROSS: You were one of the first women on the U.S. national women's soccer team to come out. Although, you say there were plenty of other women who were gay but not out (laughter). You say you were one of the only gay players at the time, which is hilarious considering how many gay people were really on the team (laughter). So...

RAPINOE: Yes (laughter).

GROSS: ...What made you decide, like, you were going to publicly come out?

RAPINOE: You know, I honestly felt like - I mean, even going back to when I first sort of discovered I was gay myself, which happened very shortly after I got to college, I never struggled with that. I was actually thrilled. I thought, OK, this is awesome. I felt like my whole life sort of, like, clicked into place. And it just gave me this whole new sense of myself. And just this confidence, I think, kind of bloomed and exploded in me. And it was during - I mean, I think, at the time - maybe just before that - Prop 8 had been on the ballot in California. I'm from California. You know, generally, I think these cases were coming before the Supreme Court.

And it just be-kind-of-came like, why am I not out? I didn't really have a lot of, you know, interaction with media where I had to hide it or what - you know, nobody was asking. That's not really an appropriate question to ask someone. But it just became one of those things where I did start to notice myself saying some things and not others. And I just was like, what am I doing? Like, why am I even doing that? And why am I not out knowing that it could probably have a really positive impact.

And so I just kind of made the decision. It was actually on the plane ride home from that 2011 World Cup. I was sitting next to my friend Lori, who's also out and played on the team for a long time. And it was just - yeah, it just kind of became, like, why am I not out? This is not feeling right. And so I took, I think, a couple months to sort of figure out exactly what I wanted to do and then came out before the London Olympics in 2012.

GROSS: And what changed afterwards?

RAPINOE: Publicly, I think, a lot changed. I still, to this day, have, you know, people coming up to me or writing to me or whatever it may be, you know, thanking me or saying, you know, I'm the reason they felt OK with themselves, or I'm the reason their family was OK - or, you know, parents coming up to me who, you know, very clearly have little, budding, gay children. And even if it's an unspoken thing, it's - they see themselves in me.

They see a future for their children that isn't, you know, just all about the stereotype that you hear, which is how hard life is to be gay. And not to say that life isn't difficult being gay. For a lot of people, it really is. But it's not all bad. It's not all struggle. Whenever I go into a room, like, we don't have to talk about the fact that I'm gay or an interview or whatever - doesn't have to be all about that. But I'm very out and proud and will show that and will live a very out and open life. And I think that that's vital for people to see.

GROSS: I think Sue Bird, who you're engaged to and who is a WNBA star - I think she was not out when you started your relationship. Did you convince her to come out?

RAPINOE: (Laughter) You know, it's funny. The - one of the first things that my twin sister said was, is Sue out? And I was like, no. She's not out. Like, she's obviously out with her family and friends and all of that, but not with the media. And she was like, well, she's not going to be able to hide this for very long.

GROSS: (Laughter).

RAPINOE: You're like the gayest thing ever. (Laughter) So - which is so true. It's like, I mean, even though we're only five years apart, that age difference in terms of, you know, the national dialogue or what it was like for her in college compared to what it was like for me in college is so vastly different. It's almost like we're a generation apart in that way of how society was thinking about gay and talking about gay.

And so in a way, I think, it was just like, she got to this place. She was fine with her family, fine with her friends. She never really, like, struggled with it all that much. But it was, like, you know, just kind of something that - she's more private in general. But, yeah, once big, gay Megan came onto the scene...

GROSS: (Laughter).

RAPINOE: ...She had to make a decision very quickly, I think (laughter).

GROSS: So, you know, we've talked about your work as a LGBTQ activist. You took a knee in 2016 a week after Colin Kaepernick did. You were 31. You were a veteran of two World Cups and two Olympic Games. And it sounds from your memoir like it was a pretty spontaneous move on your part. Tell us what went through your mind when you did it and what the immediate reaction was.

RAPINOE: Well, the immediate reaction was bad...

(LAUGHTER)

RAPINOE: ...For most people, I would say. But I think bad in the mainstream sense, bad in the, you know, Twittersphere and all of that but - and bad among, you know, white people. But, actually, I would say the amount of support - which came later and came in different ways, you know, from Black people, white people, people all across the spectrum - so far outweighed all of the negativity. But, of course, mainstream media, social media, you know, I think soccer fans in general, which are predominantly white, and I think just the - you know, the majority of America was very, very upset at that time.

What I was thinking at the time - so we've gone through, you know, the summer of 2014. We've gone through the Black Lives Matter protests. You know, going through 2015, that's all still happening. 2016's summer was just so tragic, you know, Alton Sterling and Philando Castile and, you know, the Dallas police officers shot. I think there was more police officers shot in Louisiana as well. And just, you know, kind of coming to a head. The WNBA players had staged protests during their season, actually, you know, refusing to talk about anything but.

And so you kind of get to this moment in Colin Kaepernick, where, you know, the first moment that I saw him speak on "SportsCenter," whatever it was, it was like - it just was very simple to me. Like, this is clearly happening throughout the country. We've gone through Trayvon Martin. We've gone through Michael Brown. We've gone through, you know, Tamir Rice and Philando Castile and all of these - Sandra Bland and all of these horrible tragedies.

And, I mean, of course, we're at this moment. And, of course, what he's saying is true. And it just really struck me. And he sort of put an action to the words that he was saying and the words that I had been reading for so long and the words, you know, of all of these Black Lives Matter protests. And it just was like, OK, this is an action that I can do, that I can help with.

GROSS: My guest is soccer champion and activist Megan Rapinoe. Her memoir is called "One Life." She's featured in the new documentary about the ongoing fight for equal pay for the U.S. women's national soccer team. It starts streaming on HBO Max tomorrow. We'll hear more of the interview after a break. This is FRESH AIR.

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GROSS: This is FRESH AIR. I'm Terry Gross. Let's get back to my interview with Megan Rapinoe. She's a champion soccer player. And in 2019, after the U.S. women's national soccer team won its fourth World Cup, she was awarded the Golden Boot as top scorer and the Golden Ball as the tournament's best player. Rapinoe was also part of the U.S. team which won a gold medal at the 2012 Olympics. She's headed to the Olympics this summer. She's featured in a new documentary about the ongoing fight for equal pay for the U.S. women's national soccer team. It starts streaming on HBO Max tomorrow.

I spoke with her in November, after the publication of her memoir "One Life." It was also shortly after she announced her engagement to Sue Bird, a champion player in the WNBA. In 2016, a week after Colin Kaepernick took a knee during the national anthem, Rapinoe took a knee in support and faced the consequences.

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GROSS: So I want to read something that you reprint in your memoir, and this is what U.S. Soccer said in an official statement. And you say it might as well have been headed, Dear Megan.

So the statement was, (reading) representing your country is a privilege and honor for any player or coach that is associated with U.S. Soccer's national team. In front of national and often global audiences, the playing of our national anthem is an opportunity for our men's and women's national team players and coaches to reflect upon the liberties and freedom we all appreciate in the country. As part of the privilege to represent your country, we have an expectation that our players and coaches will stand and honor our flag while the national anthem is played.

What was your action - your reaction when you read that statement?

RAPINOE: I couldn't believe it. I think I was truly sort of dumbstruck. It really upset me. The nerve and the audacity to say what they did in that statement - it is an honor and a privilege that we all have in this country? I don't think so. I don't think we do all have that in this country. So it missed the entire point, clearly. And it was just cruel in a way. It was gaslighting, and it was manipulative, and it was cruel. But it also was very - I thought very intentionally meant to silence me.

GROSS: What are some of the repercussions you faced professionally?

RAPINOE: They're sort of gray repercussions, I'll say. You know, in - like, in terms of sponsorships, I didn't lose any sponsorships, which I think is great. Obviously, Nike's a big sponsor of mine. They have been very supportive. But I certainly didn't get any new sponsorships, and I certainly didn't get any new opportunities sort of in the short term. You know, from U.S. Soccer's perspective, from playing, I really didn't play again until the spring, I think, or even later into the next year.

GROSS: Were you taken out of the lineup?

RAPINOE: In a sense, yes. So this is where the gray part comes in. I - you know, I was - I had played in those two games, in the first two games that I had, you know, knelt. I think that was in October or so. We had a November camp. And I was coming off of an injury, so I wasn't really at my best. But I was clearly on the way back to my best. And, you know, being a player who had just - you know, we just won the World Cup. I was a big part of that team. And I think it was - all signs were leading to, I was going to be coming back and playing back to my best.

But I just needed time, and so that was sort of used as an excuse of, like - you know, I think the next camp, I was left off the roster. December, we didn't have a camp. January was no games, so I did come in and practice. I was left off the next roster and the next roster. So I think they were like, if you just sort of fade off into the distance, we'd be happy with that. You know, I never lost my contract. But, no, they did not really allow me back on the field until the rule was instituted that you had to stand for the national anthem during our games.

GROSS: And did you regret kneeling because of that?

RAPINOE: No, no. No, definitely not. I mean, I think, honestly, the only thing that I regret maybe was when I came back, that I didn't keep kneeling. That's something that I feel like I still struggle with, you know. I didn't want to lose my job. I - you know, I didn't want to not have a platform to talk on. I didn't want to not, you know, keep playing for the national team. And so that was a really tough decision.

I mean, I think in one sense, I probably made the right decision because I sort of battled back and got to a level where I was then undeniable, and then they had a really big problem on their hands because I really wasn't going anywhere - I know you're not going anywhere, either, but you know that I'm not going anywhere. So it became this sort of - you know that I know.

GROSS: U.S. Soccer did eventually lift the ban. When did they lift it?

RAPINOE: As, you know, the tragic murder of George Floyd, Ahmaud Arbery and Breonna Taylor, as the protests subsequently, you know, swept the nation, I think that they realized that that policy not only is now - is wrong now, but it always was, and it was the wrong policy. And they came out with a pretty strongly worded statement and rescinded it.

GROSS: And did Colin Kaepernick ever get in touch with you after you kneeled?

RAPINOE: Yes. Yes, we - yeah, we're in touch with each other, for sure.

GROSS: And he certainly faced consequences for kneeling.

RAPINOE: Yeah, he certainly did and, I think, still is. Yeah, I think he's very much still being blackballed. I mean, I think the sentiment among many of the NFL owners still and among Roger Goodell still, whatever they say publicly, is much the same as it was in 2016, when he knelt for the first time. I think if there had been a dramatic shift in their thinking, I think that you would see Colin on a team or at least given a legitimate tryout.

But I think Colin has been really brave in not capitulating to every single demand that the NFL has. I think if Colin comes back and plays, it will be because he was given a fair shot, and he wouldn't have to, you know, sell himself short on anything.

GROSS: My guest is women's soccer star Megan Rapinoe. We'll be back after a short break. This is FRESH AIR.

(SOUNDBITE OF MUSIC)

GROSS: This is FRESH AIR. Let's get back to our interview with soccer star Megan Rapinoe. She's featured in the new documentary "LFG" about the ongoing fight for equal pay for the U.S. women's national soccer team. It starts streaming on HBO Max tomorrow. Her memoir is called "One Life."

(SOUNDBITE OF ARCHIVED NPR BROADCAST)

GROSS: One of the things you write about in your memoir is your older brother. He's the person who kind of got you started in soccer because he's older than you are and was playing before you played and got you interested in the sport. When he was in his teens, he started using drugs - opioids, meth and heroin - and he spent a lot of time in and out of prison and spent a lot of time in solitary confinement. And you write that there was a period when he joined a white supremacist gang inside prison and came home with a swastika tattoo. How were you able - have you been able to reconcile the person he became in prison and the brother that you grew up with?

RAPINOE: I mean, I think that we do not understand, as people who have never been in prison - I don't think we really understand prison society is very different from normal society. Not like a, you know, whole-scale excuse for anybody who does anything bad in prison, but I think that the rules are different. I think also, like, multiple things can be true at one time. Things are complicated.

So maybe that is where he found, you know, a sense of community or he found a sense of belonging or just protection. I mean, I think when - if your life is on the line, I think pretty much anybody would do anything in their power to save it. And so while it was just baffling and sort of devastating to even know that, it was like, OK, well, what does it mean? And talk to us about it. And why did you do this? And, like, this is frankly insane.

And I think for him, too, understanding that - you know, I think especially in California because it's so racially diverse, I think that a lot of the tension between the groups was wanted by the prison system to sort of keep everybody in line. It's like, as long as all the prisoners are fighting each other, they're not going to organize and fight against the system that's suppressing them all and locking them away forever and ruining lives.

And so I think he kind of started to realize through his journey, oh, maybe this is - you know, we're all fighting amongst each other, but maybe we really should be fighting against the prison system or against mass incarceration or the drug laws or the three-strikes rule or whatever the reason everybody was in there.

And so, you know, it's never excusable, ever. And, you know, white supremacy is just as dark of, you know, a human belief that you could possibly have. But I want to understand it better rather than just say, you know, holy [expletive], you're a white supremacist; like, I'm never going to talk to you again.

GROSS: Is he comfortable with you writing about him?

RAPINOE: I think sometimes (laughter). I'm sure sometimes he's not. Probably in the better times he is. You know, it's difficult 'cause I feel like when he gets really sober, you know, he's about all these things. He was working really hard and, you know, getting his education. He was doing a lot of work with criminal justice reform. He was doing a lot of work even in, like, racial equity and talking about things and breaking down some of these, you know, beliefs that maybe he had with himself. And he was doing really amazing work.

We're aligned, you know, from a philosophical perspective and how we see the world in so many ways. And then there's another person. There's a person who's addicted to drugs and who gets strung out and who, you know, just does what they can to survive and to survive through the daily horror that is addiction. And so I think in some ways, probably yes and, in some ways, probably not.

GROSS: We're living in a very divisive time. You got a lot of criticism in addition to a lot of praise for taking a knee shortly after Colin Kaepernick did. So you represent American teams in the Olympics and in the World Cup. What does the flag mean to you? What does, like, you know, American pride, national pride mean to you?

RAPINOE: I see American pride or at least my personal pride or what I think that the flag should mean is, like, an impossible standard in which we are always trying to get to. Like, we're not there. We were never there. First of all, the country was, you know, founded not on freedom and liberty and justice for all. I think we can just start to be very honest with ourselves about that. It doesn't mean that we don't have some of those qualities and that we can work towards some of those qualities.

But this country was founded on chattel slavery and the brutal and ruthless system of slavery. So let's just, like, all be really honest about that. So when I look at the flag, what I want to see is us constantly trying to live up to these words and live up to this ideal where all people are free and all people do have all of their rights - and all people can have a life filled with liberty and justice for all and who, you know, work hard and have a good life and all of these things. But, I think, we just so clearly have so far to go. And so I see patriotism as constantly demanding better of ourselves.

GROSS: So you're very stylish in your streetwear and in red carpet looks and - I forget which trophy that you won, but you wore - it was like a gown with a plunged neckline - very stylish and elegant and very feminine. And you're somebody who used to always dress like a boy when you were young. Oh, and I should mention, like, during one big game, you dyed your hair platinum, during another, you dyed it pink. So when did that happen (laughter) that you became conscious of style?

RAPINOE: You know, I think I've always been conscious of style. I think I'm much more stylish now than I used to be. But I think I've always been - you know, I've always like had jewelry or tied little things on my wrist or worn rings or necklaces or whatever. I think that comes from my mom. She's always like, you know - does things for herself. That's like her form of self-expression and self-care in a way. And I also believe that everybody should live in their full individuality. It's interesting because we live in a society that values a sort of individual over the greater good. But we require that individual to fit in this tiny box of what we deem as a society acceptable. And, like, nobody really fits into that, right? And so I think with fashion and - you know, whether that be a red carpet or, you know, just what I'm wearing to the grocery store - it's like a way that I express myself and that I speak to myself for myself. It's like I don't really get dressed for anyone else. Like, sometimes I feel more masculine. Sometimes I feel more feminine. Sometimes I like to wear whatever, but it's all just like to sort of feed my own individuality and creativity. And it, like, just makes me feel good.

GROSS: You've said that one of the things that sets the U.S team apart is that you always believe that you'll win. And, in fact, like, we believe that we will win is even a chant at your games. So is that how you're naturally inclined, or did you have to fool yourself into thinking - into actually believing that you will win? And can you teach me how to do that? I'm such (laughter) - I am not a - like, yes, I know I will be great. I know I will win (laughter).

RAPINOE: You know, it took some time, I think. Coming onto the team at a young age, you realize very quickly, well, first of all, we do win a lot. So that is what you become accustomed to. But it's - it goes deeper - we win a lot because we really, truly, deep down believe that we're going to win. I think that comes from battling against each other all the time and understanding that it takes more than just a desire to win to win.

You know, it takes a belief. It takes a determination. And it takes a hard work. It takes a trust. And it takes a vulnerability with each other to show up in that way and to be able to kind of lay it out all on the line all the time. I've been in so many games, honestly, where I feel like the other team is too insecure to show how much they want to win, and so they just don't. There's no insecurity on our team about that. It's like, we will, I mean, embarrass ourselves to the nth degree (laughter) to win a game, I think. Like, we would go that far because it's just...

GROSS: Wait. What do you do to embarrass yourself to win?

RAPINOE: We don't care if we're down 4-0. We will never give up. We don't care if we look stupid or whatever. Like, we'll just - we just focus on winning and never giving up. I think it's more of the never giving up part.

GROSS: Megan Rapinoe, thank you so much for talking with us. And congratulations, again, on your engagement and also on the new book.

RAPINOE: Thank you so much for having me on.

GROSS: My interview with Megan Rapinoe was recorded in November after the publication of her memoir, "One Life." She's featured in a new documentary about the fight for equal pay for the U.S. women's national soccer team. It will start streaming on HBO Max tomorrow. She's heading with the team to Tokyo for the Olympics. After we take a short break, Ken Tucker will review new albums by Chrissie Hynde singing Dylan songs and Shannon McNally doing songs associated with country singer Waylon Jennings. This is FRESH AIR.

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