Megan Rapinoe lives in Queen Anne, she practices in Tacoma, she dates the Seattle Storm's guard Sue Bird, and she's the greatest soccer player in the world.
Four minutes into the FIFA Women's World Cup 2019 quarterfinal match against France, Rapinoe drove a free kick from outside the penalty area between two defenders' legs and just past the goalkeepers' outstretched fingers. It curved just right and connected with the net.
Goal. With her now-iconic short crop of lilac hair, Rapinoe lifted her chin, an easy smile on her face, and spread her arms wide to the crowd as if to say, "Here I am." Her pose—described by the Los Angeles Times as the closest thing to "winged victory"—was quickly cemented in sports history.
It felt like watching a charged Brandi Chastain clutching the jersey she had ripped off her body after scoring the winning penalty kick in the 1999 final against China all over again. Except this time, instead of controversy about an exposed sports bra, there was Rapinoe, an outspoken, bright-haired lesbian, triumphant, standing tall against Trump.
Will you go to the White House when you win? a reporter had asked Rapinoe two days before that game. "Psh," Rapinoe smirked, "I'm not going to the fuckin' White House."
The attention was immediate. She said what? Sure enough, Donald Trump zeroed in on Rapinoe's comments. In a blood-boiling tweet tirade, he chided her, saying she should win first and then talk. So she did. With grace, swaggering confidence, and style, Rapinoe not only helped her team take home their fourth World Cup, but she won the Golden Boot for highest scorer and the Golden Ball for most valuable player in the tournament.
Shouts of "equal pay for equal play" rained down on the Paris stadium after the match ended. The U.S. Women's National Team had filed a lawsuit against its parent organization, the U.S. Soccer Federation, for gender discrimination mere months before the tournament. The team already had three World Cup championships under their belt, but this consecutive win sent a very clear message to the USSF: this was the winningest team in women's soccer history, and they most certainly were worthy of equal pay.
During the ticker-tape parade through New York City, Rapinoe danced, poured champagne into her teammates' mouths, and stroked the championship trophy while yelling "I deserve this!" Throughout the tournament and the celebrations, the team had been hit with criticisms for celebrating—people (mostly men) saying that it was uncouth, unbecoming, and arrogant.
As if in response to that double standard, Rapinoe and the rest of the team used balled-up copies of their gender discrimination lawsuit as confetti, throwing them off their parade float as they made their way through New York City. Pages of it clung to the trees like Christmas ornaments.
Rapinoe is now a world leader in the equal pay conversation. Her politics—she has called herself a "walking protest" of Trump—had drawn eyeballs to screens that wouldn't have normally bothered to watch the Women's World Cup. Twenty percent more people watched the Women's World Cup final than the men's World Cup Final in 2018.
Yet, this team of athletes that consistently dominated in their sport on an international level were making a fraction of what their male counterparts were making, a men's team that didn't even qualify for last year's World Cup.
In the first match of the 2019 World Cup, the U.S. Women's National Team scored 13 goals against Thailand. That was more than the men's national soccer team has scored in every World Cup since 2006 combined.
Nevertheless, the men's team outearns the women's team. Despite not even making it out of the second round of the 2014 World Cup, the men's team "earned $5.375 million in bonuses," Vox reported. Comparatively, the women only made "$1.725 million in bonuses" when they won the whole thing in 2015.
Thus, the lawsuit for gender discrimination. They played more games for less money, they played on shittier fields at worse times, and they outperformed the men every goddamn day.
Thanks to Title XI, women's soccer has thrived in the United States since the 1970s. Even still, it's been hard to keep a national women's league around. Two have come and gone.
The Seattle Reign, the team Rapinoe plays on, dropped "Seattle" from their name earlier this year because they no longer had a place to play in this city. Memorial Stadium in Lower Queen Anne needed repairs. The Reign asked around for stadium space, but ultimately couldn't find a home, which is why they moved to Tacoma.
This probably could have been prevented if Seattle, a major sports city, paid any attention to its own women's soccer team.
The National Women's Soccer League (NWSL) is improving marginally. Still, after recent raises, the minimum salary for players is just $16,538 per season, according to the Oregonian. The maximum is $46,200.
"It's a very low number," Yael Averbuch, former Reign player and current executive director of the NWSL players association told The Stranger. "A lot of players are supplementing their salaries."
Averbuch continued, "While we understand that salaries need to be kept low until there's enough money coming in, the [NWSL players association] looks to make sure that we can provide opportunities and support for things like coaching licenses or to help players develop professionally off the field so they can provide second sources of income and create stability."
Budweiser just signed on as a NWSL sponsor after the U.S. Women's National Team won the Cup this year. ESPN made an agreement to broadcast all of 14 games this NWSL season (there are normally 24). It's a step forward, but it's 2019, and it's not enough.
Meanwhile, conditions for women's soccer outside the United States are even worse. The Thai team is only able to exist because a rich, female benefactor pays for their expenses and salaries. Players on the professional Jamaican team, which debuted during this World Cup, get paid a whopping $0.
The U.S. Women's National Team is able to be the best because, however marginally, we've invested in women's soccer. But we need to invest more. Women's soccer always gets a boost of attention after a World Cup, but it needs to last.
"It's important to us that people see that this is not a one in every four years spectacle," Averbuch said. "This goes on every week in our country."
That kind of visibility is part of what Rapinoe is fighting for.
She came home from the World Cup a hero. She traded her soccer kit (the first one Nike ever made for women, not just a smaller version of the men's jersey, mind you) for slick, colorful suits and round sunglasses. She started making the rounds on the press junket.
In between half-joking questions about whether she would run for president, Rapinoe was able to articulate her actual mission statement: getting this equal pay thing figured out. It's important not just for the U.S. Women's National Team, but for everyone.
"I'm going to fight for equal pay every day for myself, for my team, and for every single person out there, man, woman, immigrant, U.S. citizen, person of color, whatever it may be," Rapinoe said on Meet the Press. "'Equal pay,' as the great Serena Williams said, 'Until I'm in my grave.'"