The Sunday Magazine

Coming out 'made me a better, more full person,' says U.S. soccer star Megan Rapinoe

Megan Rapinoe came out publicly as a lesbian in 2012, after garnering international attention for her pass during a Women’s World Cup semifinal match. Her new memoir One Life reflects on her childhood, sports career and social and political activism.

Rapinoe’s memoir One Life reflects on her childhood, sports career and social activism

U.S. soccer player Megan Rapinoe celebrates after defeating the Netherlands in the championship match of the 2019 FIFA Women's World Cup France 2019. This month she published her memoir One Life. (Michael Chow/USA TODAY Sports)

Originally published on Nov. 27, 2020.

U.S. soccer star Megan Rapinoe says coming out as gay made her a better player and a "better, more full person."

Although she was already out to her friends and family, Rapinoe made the decision to come out publicly in 2012, heading into the London Olympics and a year after garnering international attention for her pass to fellow teammate Abby Wambach, which led to their victory against Brazil at the Women's World Cup quarter-finals.

"It made me more of myself," Rapinoe told The Sunday Magazine host Piya Chattopadhyay.

"I think that any time you hide even the smallest part of yourself, you're not able to fully capture your potential just in life in general. So I feel like that was part of me … maturing and allowing myself to reach my full potential in all aspects of my life." 

Since then, the 35-year-old has become an outspoken advocate for LGBTQ rights, equal pay and racial justice. 

Last month, she announced her engagement to professional basketball player Sue Bird, whom Rapinoe encouraged to come out publicly through the media after they started dating in 2016.

Rapinoe and her fiancée, professional basketball player Sue Bird of the Seattle Storm, attend the WNBA All-Star Game in 2019. (Ethan Miller/Getty Images)

"She is a very private person, and she sort of keeps her personal life close to the vest just in general, and so the thought of … standing on a big platform and, you know, saying it in an article seems sort of out of character," Rapinoe said. 

"But I think in our conversations... of her sort of personal growth, she just felt that, 'Yeah, it is important to say it.' It is important to … use her place of privilege and use her place in basketball and just who she is to help people."

In her new memoir One Life, Rapinoe tells the story of her childhood. It chronicles how she rose up the ranks from playing on a boys' team to landing college scholarships and, ultimately, a spot on the U.S. national team and building a career in professional sports. 

Growing up conservative 

Born in 1985, Rapinoe grew up in Redding, Calif., a town of about 90,000 people in the north of the state. In her book, she describes it as "unremarkable" but also says, "All the same, I love it. It's full of good people, most of whom I disagree with about politics, and it's the place I think of as home."

Both she and her twin sister, Rachael, who is also gay, played elite soccer, playing on the same team all the way up to the university level. 

Rapinoe plays against Italy in the Women's World Cup qualifying playoff soccer match in November 2010. (Giampiero Sposito/Reuters)

Despite having conversative-leaning family members — her father voted for Donald Trump in 2016 — she says it's important to keep an open mind with people she disagrees with.

"We're social beings, and I think the more we try to deny … other people and lean into that division, the more unhealthy we become as a country," she told Chattopadhyay.

"So for me, while I differ wholly … in my bones on a lot of issues, I still just think that it's important that we continue to have that dialogue," she said. "I think things are a lot more complicated than just, 'You're conservative or you're Republican or you're liberal."

Social and political activism

Still, Rapinoe, who describes herself as "opinionated," has taken on a number of social and political causes over the years. 

She has been a longtime advocate for equal pay for women in U.S. soccer. She also sparked national controversy in 2016 for kneeling during the national anthem at a match in solidarity with NFL player Colin Kaepernick. In 2019, she made headlines after saying in an interview that she wouldn't visit Donald Trump's White House if her team won the World Cup that year.

In this video still from the 2020 Democratic National Convention held in August, Rapinoe leads a discussion with frontline workers battling the coronavirus pandemic. (Democratic National Convention/Associated Press)

"I play a sport in a country that is obsessed with athletes and obsessed with celebrity, and so I feel like this is the best way that I can use my voice to affect change in the world," she said.

She said she also hopes that her memoir will inspire others to do what they can, whatever that may be.

"You don't have to change the whole world yourself — and frankly, no one is able to do that," she said. "But you can do something, and you should feel the weight of responsibility to do something." 

Interview produced by Sarah-Joyce Battersby.