SAN JOSE, Calif. — Megan Rapinoe, her silvery hair streaked with hues of blue, let out a half-laugh when asked if she wanted to run for office.

Rapinoe, the world soccer player of the year who has knelt in support of former 49ers quarterback Colin Kaepernick and had a public spat last summer with President Donald Trump, sounded like a politician in response.

“At this time, I don’t have any plans of running for office; that seems out of the question,” she said in an interview this week in San Jose at the Watermark Conference for Women Silicon Valley.

Then came the teaser: “Never say never.”

For now, Rapinoe’s attention is on the Tokyo Games that begin July 22 for soccer. Rapinoe, 34, hopes to make her third Olympic team as the United States seeks to become the first country to win a women’s soccer gold medal the year after winning the World Cup.

Barring injury, Rapinoe is expected to make the 18-player U.S. roster. She hopes to be in Japan with her partner, Sue Bird, the U.S. basketball star who will be seeking to win a fifth Olympic gold medal.

Rapinoe, who received a legion of awards in 2019 that she could not have fathomed growing up in the rural, oak-lined countryside east of Redding, has catapulted into the public consciousness since helping the U.S. win the World Cup last summer in France.

It heated up when Rapinoe told a reporter, “I’m not going to the f------ White House” if the team won the world championship.

Trump tweeted: “Megan should WIN before she TALKS.”

Then Bird wrote an essay in the Players Tribune titled “So the President F*cking Hates My Girlfriend.” In it, Bird wrote, “Like, dude, there’s nothing better demanding your attention??”

All of it brought attention to Rapinoe, who in July won the Golden Ball as the World Cup’s most valuable player and the Golden Boot trophy for being the tournament’s leading scorer with six goals.

Rapinoe also was named the Best FIFA Women’s Player of the Year, the prestigious France Football Ballon d’Or and the Sports Illustrated Sportsperson of the Year.

Rapinoe and teammates filed a gender discrimination lawsuit in U.S. court in Los Angeles before the World Cup against the U.S. Soccer Federation. Rapinoe said the case, involving pay equity and other disparities between the men’s and women’s national teams, is headed to court in May.

“We’re always willing to listen to an offer that is serious,” Rapinoe told an audience of thousands at the San Jose McEnery Convention Center.

Rapinoe, a goal-scoring midfielder, has been balancing training for the U.S. team with an expanded national role to address issues involving gender equity, pay equity, LGBTQ rights and racism.

“If we’re doing what we’re supposed to do on the field we can talk as much as we want off the field,” she told the Watermark audience.

Wearing a cream blazer, designer black T and faded jeans, Rapinoe sat down behind the stage to field questions from two reporters about the current national election, how life has changed since the World Cup and a lot more.

As she sat in a chair Rapinoe said she got into San Francisco the night before. “I need a private plane,” Rapinoe said.

“You have a private plane?”

“No. I need one,” she said. “My own. My personal one. At my whim at every moment.”

Rapinoe had more on her mind than airplanes.

———

Question: You have always been willing to speak. But in France, you seemed to grow. Have you grown into this role?

Answer: I think I have. I feel a joy in talking about it because I think I am the right voice right now at this moment to help and talk about it. For whatever reason, it resonates with people. Being part of a team I feel confident to speak up. It is an important thing people need to say.

If I am not saying it then that is just one more voice not saying it. That’s not the way I want to live. I feel it is a little selfish to not take this moment in the way I am taking it right now to shed light. I clearly have a spotlight and microphones to say it. Now, who can we bring attention to? Even if people only talk about it for one night, whether it is equal pay, LGBTQ rights, or racial issues, if it is just one more sound bite, one more article, it is better than not having that.

Q: We just had the New Hampshire primary. It’s a high-stakes game. Are you dipping your toe into this national election?

A: I’ll certainly try if anybody will have me on the tour bus or the plane. In all seriousness, we’ve already seen how consequential these four years have been. Even since the acquittal (in the U.S. Senate impeachment trial) how much power the president feels he has now. The consequence of eight years of a Trump Administration will last a generation and potentially beyond that. Stocking the courts, that’s my entire lifetime. Talk about the environmental regulations that have been rolled back, talk about the income gap continuing to grow. For people my age and younger than me these are the most important things we can probably do in our lifetime. I can’t believe it is not mandatory to vote. You should have to vote as a citizen.

I’ve endorsed Elizabeth Warren in the primaries. Whoever the candidate is they have 100 percent backing from me in whatever way I can be impactful. There are a million ways people can support. Just getting people to vote and understanding how important the census is for the next 10 years of people’s lives, which will affect a whole generation.

It’s all of our responsibility to do that. People think it is so much more of a burden than it actually is. You don’t have to spend 20 hours a week to have an impact on the election. If you have the money you can donate. You can donate your time, you can canvas. You can spread the word. Educate and inform yourself. Being an informed citizen is the first step and that is so much more impactful than being an uninformed citizen.

Q: Do you want to run for office?

A: No, not at this time. My perspective has changed on it a little bit. Not in terms if I want to run or not. Just in that the best and brightest and youngest in our country are not thinking of politics as a way to change the world when it probably is actually the easiest and the most direct way. We do need to have that shift with younger people … on what being in politics means. “Oh, I’d never run for politics that seems terrible.” That can’t be our perspective if we want politics to change. We have to change that ourselves. At this time, I don’t have any plans of running for office, that seems out of the question. Never say never.

Q: 6,500 women came here to listen to you. It seems there is a market for Megan Rapinoe.

A: To be honest, there is a market for anything new. There is a real distrust in politics. There is a particular amount of experience and talent needed to be a politician. It’s not something you jump into it. You need to know how to do it. That perception, especially by young people, is a little bit dangerous. There has been a lot of work by a lot of people all these years that have gotten us to the position where now we can be, “Oh, I don’t want anyone who has been in politics all these years.” Well, you don’t want to run into politics, either. So what’s the tradeoff? There needs to be a better balance between not trusting anyone who has been in politics for a long time and then having young people run.

Q: The IOC is telling athletes they cannot stage protests during the Olympics. What are you going to do about that?

A: I wasn’t planning on doing anything. But now it seems only right to do something. I’m a little bit kidding on that. But who is in that room? What are we even talking about? You’re going to say the athletes can’t do anything but we’re not going to talk about all these other countries that maybe have human rights issues or abuses happening, or genocide is happening, or problems with gender equity in their country. Let’s use our collective (energy) to actually tackle these problems instead of keeping the status quo. But a lot of the people in power are there and solidified because of the status quo. If that all shifts where does that leave them so they are uncomfortable whereas everybody else, certainly us, we want to shake the status quo up.

Q: Have you and Sue Bird talked about these Olympics as a moment to make a statement? The media platform is huge.

A: We haven’t even sat down to have dinner together for a long time. It is the bad part of who we are, having the exact same job in separate (sports). We don’t talk about it too much. We very much understand the position we’re in. We haven’t quite had that conversation about Tokyo; I’ve been focused on Tokyo. We’ll have that conversation. Certainly, Sue is much less likely to put herself in the middle of a media spotlight than I am. I’ll probably drag her in there with me.

For the moment, we’re just focused on what we’re doing. We both realize that it is very special the position we’re in, both of our teams are very popular and us being leaders on those teams is a unique situation.

Q: Looking ahead to Tokyo, this role you’re in is going to continue for another six months. Are you ready for that? Are there a lot of things you want to do with it?

A: I’m totally comfortable and fine having it. It is a balance now with the schedule being a little more busy than it was. How do I do all of these things and keep myself focused when I’m in that attention and balance myself when I am playing and making sure I am in the best position: ultimately, that is the most important thing — to keep my position on the field. That affects everything else.

I haven’t thought too much in terms of exactly what I want to do with this moment. I just continue to talk about the things I think are important. When I have more time on my hands, whenever my career is over, maybe look to set up more of a system and structure to be impactful. For now, being an athlete and having that as my full-time job, is more about continuing to use my voice and to always show up in those moments when someone needs to say something or some public interest sort of person. We need those people to say those things because they are the ones who get the soundbites.

Q: If you’re Megan Rapoinoe, the lawyer, and kneel with Colin Kaepernick, everybody is fine with that. But when you put on the USA jersey it becomes controversial.

A: They (soccer officials) are certainly asking us to behave a certain way for their daughters and their sons and representing America. They have a lot of opinions on our status as a role model and behaving a certain way. But for whatever season, the crossover when you start to talk about some of these issues that are entrenched in our culture and our history whether it is racial issues, pay equity or gender equity those things are hard. Outside the base, people don’t want to talk about it at all. The media doesn’t want to talk about it. ESPN doesn’t want to talk about it. The NFL owners didn’t want to talk about it.

———

©2020 The Mercury News (San Jose, Calif.)

Visit The Mercury News (San Jose, Calif.) at www.mercurynews.com

Distributed by Tribune Content Agency, LLC.

—————

PHOTO (for help with images, contact 312-222-4194):

Copyright 2020 Tribune Content Agency.

Recommended for you