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Megan Rapinoe, Midfielder / USWNT - The Players' Tribune

Let me take you back to a darker time. Close your eyes. K-Ci & JoJo was on the radio. Pogs were being slammed. Computers were for playing Oregon Trail. And most Americans still thought soccer … well, to be honest, they weren’t really thinking about soccer.

Let me take you back to 1996.

This was the summer when it all changed for me. First day of school. Sixth grade.

My twin sister, Rachael, and I grew up playing with the boys. We ran around the mean streets of Redding, California, like wild animals. Basketball. Soccer. Flag football. Street hockey. We did it all.

We were rocking bowl cuts, loving life. At the time, I didn’t see myself as a “girl.” I didn’t see myself as anything. I was just having a blast.

Then I came back from summer vacation, and stepped into my sixth grade classroom. Probably wearing sweatpants. Big smile on my face. “Hey everybo— Whaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaat?”

Record skip.

Everything had changed. The boys were standing on one side of the room. The girls were huddled on the other side, gossiping. They had pictures of Jonathan Taylor Thomas on their plastic folders.

Bam. My whole world was rocked. I remember going home and sitting in my room wondering, What the hell happened last summer?

I went from having all these friends, from knowing how to act and carry myself, to feeling really alone.

I was lost.

This is when I first heard the word …

TOMBOY.

Rapinoe Sisters

I can’t do this alone. So I told The Players’ Tribune that I wanted to bring along my pals for this article. We’re currently sitting in an Airbnb in Dallas, eating doughnuts and drinking coffee. Ballin’.

Friends! Introduce yourselves.

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Rachael Rapinoe
Megan’s older sister. By 11 seconds. Tomboy.

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Carmelina Moscato
Proud retired Canadian women’s soccer player. Friend of Megan (to the chagrin of my Canadian teammates). Tomboy.

loriavy

Lori Lindsey
Proud retired American women’s soccer player. Friend of Megan ever since the ’06 national team training camp in Los Angeles, when our life was basically Top Gun and we played beach volleyball every day. Tomboy.

Megan:
I want to get to gender and politics and all kinds of HOT BUTTON ISSUES in a minute. But first, let’s paint a picture. Everyone tell me the most embarrassing thing about your sixth-grade self.

Lori:
I was like beyond a tomboy because I was also really into skateboarding. I wanted to be Tony Hawk. I had a subscription to TransWorld SKATEboarding. In Indiana.

Megan:
Oh my God. What did your dad think?

Lori:
Oh, Little Larry? He thought I was crazy. I gave myself a chili-bowl haircut. Remember that style? I actually wanted to shave one side and have the other side longer.

Carmelina:
That’s in now. You could be a hipster.

Lori:
In the ’90s, this was not O.K. My stepmom thought it made me look too much like a boy, so she made me get a perm.

Megan:
Oh, no. What happens when you perm a chili bowl? I can imagine that turned out fantastic.

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Lori:
Huge blonde mushroom. I was sitting there in the salon with all the 50-year-old women getting permed.

Rachael:
How old were you?

Lori:
Twelve.

Megan:
Stop.

Lori:
I smelled like the perm for three days. And I was so much of a little boy that I didn’t know how to take care of it. So picture it. Sixth grade. Indianapolis. I walk in with my big feathered perm. What could go wrong?

Megan:
I would’ve killed to know you then. We would’ve been besties.

Lori:
Wait, I didn’t tell you all of it. I would wear a flannel shirt and only button the top button. The others would be left open. And then my shoes. Oh, God. My stepmom got us the generic white sneakers. Like from Payless or whatever. But I was obsessed with the Air Jordans. So I made my own. With construction paper.

Megan:
That’s so awesome. Getting the Jordan 11s was one of the happiest days of my life. 

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Lori:
Remember, one of the first pairs of Air Jordans had the triangle on the side? So I’d take construction paper, cut out the triangle design and put a little hole for the shoelace to go through.

Megan:
I need to know so much more. Then you glued it, or what?

Lori:
I think I just Scotch-taped it. They were so busted, guys. I remember the day when I finally became brave enough to wear them outside for the first time. I went to the mall with my stepmom and the tape started peeling off. It started falling apart when I was out and about.

Carmelina:
As soon as you moved. LOL.

Lori:
Thank God for sports. Seriously, that was my saving grace. It was forgiven to be kinda weird because I was a good athlete.

Megan:
That’s the common denominator for everybody, I think. “Well, she’s a little weird, but she’s good at sports, so I mean …”

Carmelina:
Totally.

Lori:
Without sports, I would’ve been the weird brother from Wedding Crashers. Todd.

Megan:
“Let’s play tummy sticks!” LOL.

Lori:
No one’s gonna know what we’re talking about. Players’ Tribune, can you please post a picture of Todd from Wedding Crashers?

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Rachael:
Everyone is Todd in sixth grade though, right? Sixth grade is literally the worst. Megan, you hit the wall in sixth grade.

Megan:
I don’t know what happened. I was so cool at first. And then we flipped. I had to speak for you in kindergarten.

Rachael:
I was mute.

Megan:
I think I peaked in kindergarten. Double Dutch, nap time, crushed it.

Rachael:
That was the first sign of our athleticism. We ruled the playground.

Megan:
Where did it all go wrong? LOL.

Rachael:
Fifth grade was kinda the last of that innocence. Before things start genderfying. Then in sixth grade it all started to happen. That’s when people started having boyfriends and girlfriends and so—

Megan:
I wish I was having girlfriends at that age. I was trying to have boyfriends and it was weird. You had a lot of boyfriends.

Rachael:
Every month and a half. New boyfriend.

Lori:
Oh, you were making the rounds.

Megan:
That’s when I started following Rachael, literally. Like there were actually times when she would turn around and just run into me because I would follow her so closely.

Rachael:
Junior high was tough for you.

Megan:
I was just lost. Sports were my whole identity. I had no idea who I was or what was happening.

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Lori:
Were boys in the picture?

Megan:
I remember being like, “I don’t know if that boy’s attractive or not? I literally don’t know.”

Rachael:
All the girls would do at lunch was talk about boys. Oh, God. Megan would be like, “Yeah … uh … Craig! He’s dreamy!” Like from a ’50s movie.

Megan:
I only had two things. I had sports, and I had my sister. Rach was such a social butterfly and totally comfortable in that atmosphere, and I wasn’t. Thank God I could follow you around. I wouldn’t have survived without you. I could just be.

I remember being like, “I don’t know if that boy’s attractive or not? I literally don’t know.”

Carmelina:
You’re already making me freaking cry? Already!

Megan:
No crying allowed.

Rachael:
Quick, someone tell a funny story before we all cry.

Carmelina:
TALK ABOUT YOUR MOM.

Lori:
Mammer Jammers!

Megan:
Please, someone explain Mammer Jammers to the people at home.

Rachael:
She’s going to kill us for this. O.K. We call her Mammer Jammers because, well, when she went through menopause—

Megan:
Which was when we were in like high school and college.

Rachael:
—her pajama game somehow became a huge topic of conversation. She was so particular about them, down to every detail.

Megan:
Has to be cotton pajamas. And she has such a sensitive sense of smell that, in her words, she has to wear a different pair of pajamas every day because she doesn’t want to sleep in “already-worn” pajamas.  A new pair everyday was a non-negotiable.

Rachael:
So we’d go on vacation. Four days, four pairs of pajamas.

Megan:
She came to the 2011 World Cup in Germany, eight pairs of pajamas. We ended up extending her stay because we made the final, and she had to go to H&M and buy new ’jamas. They weren’t exactly what she wanted, but she had to make do.

Carmelina:
You guys are dead for this. She’s already googled this article.

Megan:
You really don’t want to get on her bad side. I think the last time we made her mad was 10th grade.

Rachael:
The house party. We tried to pull the wool over Jammer’s eyes. We picked up all our friends in our baller 1988 white Dodge Caravan. What was the party? I remember someone’s parents were out of town.

Megan:
Greg Bambino.

Rachael:
Greg Bambino.

Lori:
Greg Bambino?

Megan:
His name was really Greg Bambino. Great name!

Rachael:
Great party. Early 2000s. A little Sisqo coming from the computer speakers. I think we probably had like one six-pack for 14 people.

Megan:
At about 11:30, the flip phones start blowing up. All the girls’ phones at once.

Rachael:
Panic. Mass panic. Jammers had foiled our scheme. Now all the moms were alerted.

Megan:
Poor Bambino was freaking out. He knew Jammers’ reputation. When we got home, nothing even had to be said. We just went to our room. I’m pretty sure that was the last time we had a beer until college.

Rachael:
We were so cool. We literally partied once and failed.

Lori:
What did she make of you two at that point?

Megan:
The thing was, as crazy protective as she was, she never pushed us in sports. Her and my dad, Jim, knew we were good, but I don’t know if they knew we were as good as we were.  I don’t know if we even knew.

Rachael:
No one in Redding did. Remember when you got the call to play in France for the under-16 national team? The kids in school didn’t even know what to make of it.

Megan:
I feel like that would never happen now. Just with the Internet. Now these kids are ranked when they’re like 10 years old. It’s creepy. No one knew who I was at 16.

Carmelina:
This is kind of a weird question, but do you think you would’ve made it as far as you did if Mammer Jammer wasn’t your mom? These soccer moms now are so insane.

Lori:
Yeah, I feel like kids have so much pressure on them these days. They’re pushed to specialize in one sport at such an early age. Having to commit to play at a university in tenth grade? Crazy.

Megan:
It’s very fear-based now. The parents, and therefore the kids, buy into this idea that there’s a set path to being a pro. That element of “just play” is really missing, I think. Our mom and dad were never pushy. It was always up to Rach and I whether we wanted to play or not. Now that’s not to say they weren’t on us — they always wanted us to try our best and give 100 percent. Like whenever we were having a bad game, Mom’s line was, “Are you feeling O.K.?” Yes, Mom, I know I am playing bad!

Rachael:
Perfect passive-aggressiveness.

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Carmelina:
My situation was a little different. My mom wasn’t a fan of me playing soccer. My parents were immigrants from Sicily. In my mom’s time, girls didn’t play sports like that. And my dad showed up to watch games. That was his way. He didn’t care about soccer, he cared about my happiness — which was a beautiful message.

Lori:
Did your mom come around eventually?

Carmelina:
She showed her support in different ways. She totally changed her cooking for me when I made the national team at 16. Before, it was all pasta and lasagna. But then I had to cut weight, so she would cook chicken and greens for me.

Rachael:
That’s a big deal for an Italian mamma. She must have really loved you.

Carmelina:
It was tough. I always knew, even as a kid, how much joy the sport brought me. I love having the ball at my feet. But she was from the Old World. She never had that feeling, per se. But she showed love in her own way, which was all I needed.

Lori:
I need to meet your mom!

Carmelina:
When I played professionally in Italy later on, I finally understood the way my mom was raised. I couldn’t believe the attitude toward the women’s game. The Italian women’s national team is below men’s beach soccer in the national federation’s hierarchy of priorities.

Lori:
Well, even look at America. Look how far we’ve come. But we still have a ways to go, if I’m being honest. We’re world champions, but come on, we’re still not equal. There are still a lot of issues to overcome.

Megan:
In America, women’s soccer has totally exploded in this amazing way. It’s also exploded in this way that suits the status quo. The media attention on the team is so much more than in the past, but it still needs to be diversified in my opinion. Women are still so objectified in the media and sports is no exception.  

Lori:
It’s true.

Megan:
It’s really frustrating that ad companies are so quick to promote that. We need to stand up and say, “No, it’s unacceptable to us to be promoted in only this way. We are much more than just one thing. We are strong, and fierce and badass.”

Lori:
I think we should do a study on how many girls wear makeup when they play soccer.

Megan:
Over the last five years, it has gone way up.

Rachael:
The marketing has to be more sophisticated. Just like in the men’s world, there are different types of female athletes. You’re gonna market Clay Matthews different than how you’re gonna market Cam Newton.

Rapinoe Strong Pull

Lori:
Little girls who grow up playing soccer shouldn’t feel pressured to have a ponytail and put on makeup. That’s not what should be on every poster or commercial. Not to say that having a ponytail is bad, or wearing makeup is inherently bad, but it shouldn’t be the only option. There should be attention on many different women, with many different looks.  

Carmelina:
Remember when I wore mascara that one game? Bad plan. It was all over my face. I’ll never do it again. How some of these girls manage to not be a mess — like, you’re sweating. You’re profusely sweating. It’s a recipe for disaster.

Megan:
There’s definitely times in photo shoots where you really do have to be your own advocate. It shouldn’t have to fall on your shoulders, but unfortunately it does, and you have to say something. I think it is the athlete’s responsibility to change the conversation, and to demand a higher standard.

Lori:
That’s why it’s important to have friends to keep you in check. I remember I had a ponytail at one time and Megan was like, “If you ever have that freaking ponytail again, we won’t be friends.” You’re right, you’re right.

Megan:
I’m here for ya, bud. It’s a lot to navigate. Just didn’t look natural on you, that is all I was saying! LOL.

Lori:
I love talking about this stuff with you guys.

Rachael:
Megan remember when you won the World Cup? Americaaaaaaaaa.

Carmelina:
I’ll go upstairs for this one.

Rachael:
Wait! No. You’re not getting off the hook. USA vs. Canada! Why do you hate each other so much? Discuss!

Carmelina:
Hell no. I’m outnumbered here.

Megan:
See, this is what bothers me when people talk about “the women’s game” not being competitive or physical enough. Hello. Have you ever watched USA vs. Canada? You jerks try to destroy us. Luckily we just have so much class! 😉

Carmelina:
Whoaaaaaaa. Whoa. Whoa. No.

Megan:
My greatest joy in life is talking shit to Carm. About anything really. But mostly about USA vs. Canada.

Carmelina:
You should see my phone blow up during games. It’s unbelievable the shit-talking that she does.

Megan:
Why do you not like us? Be honest.

Carmelina:
I mean, we haven’t beaten you in 15 years. We came close once in the 2012 Olympic semis. And we got screwed by a bad call. End of story.

Megan:
Screwed!

Lori:
Screwed is strong.

Megan:
I’ll give you this: The call on the goalkeeper for time-wasting to get the indirect kick was stupid. That’s never called in a game unless someone just sits on the ball. But in the referee’s defense, she had already warned your keeper.

Carmelina:
We learned the Abby Wambach effect. Our keeper was holding the ball for some strategic amount of time (ha!). It’s a common time-wasting tactic. And Abby started counting the seconds out loud right in front of the referee. Screaming. “Six! … Seven! …”

Megan:
Come on, it was pretty genius.

Carmelina:
I felt like the ref was unprepared for the pressure of the match. You have one of the world’s best players yelling in your ear, saying “C’mon!” and it got the best of her. At the end of the day, it would’ve been great for her to give our keeper a few warnings. She was so pressured by Abby that she called it immediately. We all know what happened next.

Megan:
I always go back to, it was 4–3, not 1–0. I think there was so much else going on in the game. It was one of the most epic games that anyone’s ever played. I think you guys just feel—

Carmelina:
Heartbroken.

Megan:
—heartbroken. And hard-done-by. But you guys went on to win a bronze medal, which was incredible. You were not picked to win that bronze.

Carmelina:
Oh, my gosh, not even close.

Megan:
I feel like, you guys played so well, you really matched the footballing side that day. And the way it went down left a bad feeling. And now you hack my ankles.  LMAO.

Carmelina:
I don’t think we ever sit in our locker room and say, “Let’s go and injure these girls.” At the end of the day, if there’s a tackle to be had, I think it’s gonna be given. I don’t think there’s malice behind it.

Megan:
No, I don’t think there is malice behind it, just that competitive fire. But I think it’s fair to say you guys don’t play us like you play other teams. Fair?

Carmelina:
I think it has to be realistic to the opponent. Are we going to possess out of our back third? No. You guys are too good. There, I said it.

Megan:
Thank you! Your coach cracks me up. He never stops chatting on the sideline. He’s always calling out plays. “Blue 42! Blue 42! Man on the right side!”

Carmelina:
No comment.

Megan:
I’m sorry. I’m done. I love you. This rivalry has made us both better!

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Carmelina:
I’ll give it to you guys. I’ll say it. The USWNT is on another level — a whole other planet right now. My teammates will give me crap for this, but while watching you win the World Cup was really hard, it was also amazing, because I know your journey.

Lori:
*Big cheesy grin*

Carmelina:
Don’t get me wrong, do I wish it happened in our backyard?! You know the answer to that. Ha! But at the end of the day, the one thing this beautiful game has given me is incredible friends. Even American ones.

Megan:
I’ll just end on this. When I came out publicly a few years ago, there weren’t a lot of out athletes — male or female. There still aren’t, which is kind of surprising. I think people feel isolated and alone. They’re worried about putting themselves out there. But for me, that isolation ended a long time ago. It ended because of you guys, and my other friends in this sport. I have my people, and they understand me. That’s all I’ve wanted since I was the weirdo in sixth grade. I’d trade any number of World Cups for that.

Lori:
I couldn’t agree more.

Megan:
Thank you all for indulging me. Here’s to the tomboys.

Carmelina:
Heck yeah.

Mailbag: Megan Rapinoe

This is The Tribune Mailbag. Next up, we feature a True American Hero and 2015 World Cup champion, Megan Rapinoe. Take it away, Megan.

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