During the third installment of the Student Engagement Planning Agency’s (SEPA) What Matters to U series, soccer star Megan Rapinoe came to share another important message: speak up for what you believe in.
Megan Rapinoe — an outspoken activist for social issues, who was recently named FIFA’s 2019 Best Women’s Player in the World — arrived at the University of Miami on Oct. 10 in an Uber straight from the airport.
Rapinoe wore frayed denim jeans with a chic graphic tee tucked under her blazer. Her ever-present purple hair was hard to miss as she was ushered into campus under the cover of umbrella-wielding university staff.
One thing that stood out about this mega-famous superstar was her incredibly humble nature. With so many accolades and such a powerful voice, she somehow manages to keep herself down to earth. When Rapinoe finally took the stage in front of a packed room of students buzzing with anticipation, she looked completely at ease.
The moderators, senior neurology major Claudia DeLorenzo and Shirelle Jackson Miami’s senior associate athletic director for student-athlete development, kicked the conversation off by talking about Rapinoe’s accomplishments and her journey to publicly coming out — which she decided to do on a whim during a long flight.
Most of the conversation was steered towards the topic of activism. Of course, Rapinoe’s activism may seem much different than that of a single person on a college campus, but Rapinoe reiterated many times that that was not the case.
“I think, first and foremost, your voices are important and powerful. Sometimes it feels like, ‘What am I going to do? I’m just one person or one group.’ But if everybody who thought they were one person or one group did it, it would already be done,” Rapinoe said. “The second thing, which I realized on the team, especially as we’ve gotten into the equal pay fight, if you want it done, do it. No one’s going to do it for you. No one’s going to say it for you. Take that and empower yourself with that. You have all the resources. You’re at an incredible university.”
Rapinoe, who admits she is teetering towards being sort of “old” for a professional soccer player, also spoke a lot about the importance of younger people’s voices being loud, especially as people like her get older and — in her words — “die off”.
“These are the kids that are going to be politicians, in business and in those social spaces. They’re the ones that need to be as engaged as we are right now,” Rapinoe said. “And I think it’s important to give hope and sort of bridge that gap and learn from them.”
Although it seems as if Rapinoe’s only agenda for coming to UM was to spread positivity and to encourage change, some people were not so happy about her arrival on campus.
In the weeks leading up to the event, the University of Miami Facebook, Twitter, and Instagram accounts were flooded with comments and mentions from alumni and fans being blatantly disrespectful in response to the announcement of her arrival. In some cases, comments were even automatically hidden by Twitter algorithms because of their hateful nature.
These comments most likely stemmed from decisions like Rapinoe’s choice to kneel during the pledge of allegiance, as well as her vocal opinions on our current president.
Jackson briefly touched on Rapinoe’s role in fellow Nike ambassador Colin Kaepernick’s choice to kneel during the pledge of allegiance. Rapinoe was one of the first white women to follow his lead.
“I don’t regret it at all. I feel like I did the right thing and I don’t think that anything Colin was talking about was wrong,” Rapinoe said. “I think we have all of these problems in our country and until we’re willing to really reconcile with it and face it honestly as a country, it’s not going to get better. People weren’t willing to have a conversation. It became something totally different and just trying to skew the conversation in a different way was really sad.”
Rapinoe continued, “When I was doing it, particularly in the U.S. shirt, I felt very American. Being American, I think, is about standing up for everybody. One particular person or group of people don’t get to co-opt the idea of patriotism or use it for one specific thing. I think America is great. I love living in America. I don’t want to live anywhere else, but that doesn’t mean that we can’t be better and that we can’t face the things that have been very wrong in our country and continue to still be very wrong in our country and make them better.”
Even with the negativity that organizers of the event saw all over social media in the days leading up, the true nature of the current UM population shined through at the event. The crowd hung onto every word. Some of her statements hit home, and their power created a glisten in the eyes of students and administrators alike.
Rapinoe left the crowd with a parting piece of advice, reiterating her point that as young people in a time where everything seems to be going wrong, it is our job to use our voices to make a change — no matter how big or how small.
“I think it is your responsibility as a person at this university, as a person in society, to, in whatever way that you can, try to make the world a better place. If everybody in the world really took to heart that it’s their responsibility to make the world a better place, I think people would feel a lot more inspired to act and to do something.”
words_olivia ginsberg, photo_jenny hudak