The U.S. Women's National Team plays host to the German National Team on Saturday, Oct. 20, at Toyota Park in Bridgeview as part of the 2012 Fan Tribute Tour, presented by Panasonic. Game time is 5:30 p.m., as the U.S. is the top-ranked team in the latest FIFA Women's World Rankings and will battle the second-ranked team. The rematch is Tuesday night, Oct. 23, at Rentschler Field in East Hartford, Conn.
Megan Rapinoe, a star midfielder for the U.S. Team, spoke exclusively with Windy City Times after the team's practice on Thursday afternoon on the campus of the University of Illinois-Chicago. She spoke open and candidly about returning to Chicago where her professional career started, the 2012 Summer Olympics in London, issues she's faced since coming out over the summer and what it might be like for an active male athlete in a major team sport if he came out.
With the world watching, Megan Rapinoe helped lead the U.S. women's national soccer team to the gold medal a few months ago in the London Summer Olympicswith key goals and crucial assists.
As she stood on the platform this past August, a gold medal draped around her neck, Rapinoe truly was an American sensation as she shined in the spotlight of her on-the-field playand not impacted by her revelation five weeks earlier of her off-the-field lifestyle.
"Anytime you can go to the Olympics, perform well, be happy with the way you performed, and win a gold medal, that's amazing, so memorable," said Rapinoe, 27, who started all six Olympic games this past summer. She scored the game-winning goal against Colombia and had two memorable goals in the semifinals against Canada. She had three goals and a team-high four assists in the Olympics.
"As a team, we accomplished what we wanted to doand that sometimes is rare in sports. It was an amazing experience, something I've been dreaming about since I knew what the Olympics were, so it's hard to describe."
She has played for the U.S. women's national team since 2006with 17 goals in 61 caps (appearances on a select team, such as a national team).
"I wouldn't say [coming out when I did] was pressure; it was a little bit of a non-event; I assume most people probably assumed that I was [gay because] I led my life pretty openly before [the official coming-out]," she said. "I didn't necessarily do it because of the Olympics, or because of that [worldwide] stage, but I also think it was good to do it then; it did bring a spotlight to it. I think it was a good stage to put out there who I am, and I'm really proud of who I am."
Since coming out, Rapinoe said, "It's been all positive, really."
She said she didn't really have many expectations of what to expect when coming out, although she didn't think it'd be a huge shock to many. "Everyone in my life accepts me exactly as I am," Rapinoe said. "It was cool to be out [at] the Olympics. It's still rare to be an out, [active] athlete, so I'm proud to be one."
There were 23 openly gay and lesbian London Olympians, plus two coaches, including Pia Sundhage, who was the U.S. women's soccer team's head coach. She has since retired from the post, with Jill Ellis replacing her on an interim basis.
"Twenty-three of 10,000 [athletes] … and I heard the site Grindr crashed when all of the athletes got to the [Olympic] Village, so I'm sure there were more than just 23," Rapinoe said, laughing.
"Hopefully this is a launching pad for athletes to feel like they can be comfortable knowing that, yes, they can come out and eventually it will be an absolute non-issue. I think it's closer in women's sports, whereas it's a little different in men's sports.
"It's going to be a bomb the first time," an active male athlete in one of the big four team sports comes out.
However, she added, "I don't think we're too far off from that happening; I think the country is moving in the right direction."
Still, she said it likely will be another 10 years.
"The big difference is, for female athletes, you don't really have to hide your whole life from everybody. But for a male athlete, it'd be a complete change of their entire lifeand I can't really imagine the pressure of that.
"With the intense scrutiny that big-time male athletes [in team sports] receive, from the media and in social media, I can't even imagine what it'd be like to come out and then watch every single move that you make [be scrutinized]; it'd be very tough."
Rapinoe attended the University of Portland and was grabbed second overall in the 2009 WPS draft by the now-defunct Chicago Red Stars of the Women's Professional Soccer leage. Rapinoe had two goals and three assists in her 18 games for the Red Stars.
She scored one goal for Chicago in 2010.
Rapinoe now plays for the Seattle Sounders Women team in the United States W-League.
"It's always special to come back to a place where you've played before, where you have home fans. I feel the same way about Portland, when I go back there.
I had the best of times in Chicago," Rapinoe said. "When I flew into O'Hare [International Airport,] I thought of all the crazy times we had here. It was an awesome franchise, unfortunately it didn't last. So being able to come back and play in front of a home crowd always is special.
"Chicago is a really cultured city that isn't 'typical Midwest.' Chicago has great food, [a] great art scene [and a] great music scene. We had a lot of down time while here, so were able to explore around. In the summer, Chicago is one of the best places. Coming from California, I was skeptical when I heard Chicago also had beaches. Sure, they aren't like California beaches, but they still are fun. The energy in Chicago is really special and unique."
The same can be said for Rapinoe on the field.
"She's got flair," said Ellis. "She's a player who not only can connect our lines, meaning, her passing is very good, but, she also is a creator, so she can take players on, set up goals, etc. She has so much to her game, both in her passing and her creativity in the final third [of the field.] Her crossing [of the ball] has gotten so much better. She's an exciting player to watch. The fans love her because she's unpredictable and plays with great personality. She plays with her personality, because that's how she is off the field.
"Megan's passion for the game translates into how she plays the game."
Rapinoe and her U.S. teammates last played Sept. 19, stopping Australia 6-2 in the final game under Sundhage, who was 91-6-10 in her five-year career with the U.S. women. Rapinoe had an assist in the game and also drilled a corner kick that resulted in a goal.
"When you see [Rapinoe] up close and personal some of the things she can do with the ball and, more importantly, how she impacts the team, how she scores big goals, as she did in the game against Canada [in the Summer Olympics] … it's just fun to watch her," Ellis said. "Her career is far from over, but she is going to be one of our most talented players. We strive in this country to have technical role-models, to have players who have special qualities, and for the young players out there, they can look at Megan and see the creativity, the confidence that she has on the field, with both feet; that will be her legacy."