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MacKenna On Monday: Low And High, Many Have Been Tricked By Megan Rapinoe’s Marketing Of Herself


The social media pages belonging to Megan Rapinoe are very interesting for the very reason that they are actually not very interesting at all.

It starts out, by way of an introduction, telling us that she’s the co-founder of “The Megan Rapinoe Brand” which genuinely is a tell-tale sign. From there it descends into a dull and standard sale around games and more importantly the sale of herself.

Of course, there’s nothing wrong with this given the crossroads both the women’s game and crucially her career find themselves at, and this is definitely the time to cash in on it all. Still, it just doesn’t have the feel of the next great sporting social campaigner about it, one that we are constantly told by commentators she already is, as if a mere reflex reaction or a Chinese whisper.


Low and high, many have been tricked by Rapinoe’s marketing of herself. Take Colin Cowherd – the excellent and, usually, hugely insightful Fox Sports talk-show host. After the World Cup win, with her shouldering and shoving teammates from centre stage and making it all about her, he mentioned her in the same sentence as both Muhammad Ali and Colin Kaepernick in terms of athletes who enjoy talking politics and who are hugely comfortable advocating for vital change.

At face value that’s fine, but scratch a little. If she doesn’t match up to the former in terms of what she’s done (that’s not a criticism, as arguably no athlete will ever be like Ali for he was the person for his time and place), she doesn’t come close to what Kaepernick said with such impact.

Right now, what issue is it that she actually stands for? All of them and therefore none of them? Indeed, dealing with the facts rather than hopeful delusion, the answer might just be herself.

For the last few weeks, I thought I’d an obsession with Megan Rapinoe. Turns out it’s actually a fascination with those that mistakenly do.

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White people cannot claim to fully understand racism, and to try and talk about some reverse form shows they don’t understand even the basics of history and they don’t get the psychological impact that it’s had. It stands similarly that men cannot claim to understand the life of women and to try and talk about all now being equal while ignoring the past brings up exactly the same issues. It also stands that straight people cannot claim to understand homosexuality and to try and talk about a two-way street shows a lack of understanding of the bile, abuse and hate they faced.

Thus we need those pushing for a change to come directly from such places, and celebrities rightly or wrongly are the best chance. Megan Rapinoe in this role though?

Even as a gay woman, maybe not for while she had promised much, that makes the present all the more disappointing.


As far back as 2016, and before many had heard her name, she was the first female athlete to get on board with the knee during the national anthem in a club game, in a move that caused such consternation that the US soccer authorities had to change the rules. And while her refusal to go to the White House may have seemed arrogant midway through a World Cup – as they’d need to win to get an invite – she helped the United States back it up as well.

If these were beginnings though, they also appear to have been an ending of sorts. Since her new-found fame, there’s been such a loud scattergun approach to the point that it’s hard to leave her presence with any real social awakening. Instead, the overriding feeling is to be turned off by her flimsy abrasiveness. Maybe Rapinoe does want to save the world, but there’s a complete lack of focus and also, often, class. Meanwhile, at times, there’s been huge hypocrisy coming from her mouth.

Consider the homecoming as, with all eyes on her, she used that moment to sound exactly like many of those on the right-wing. “I think that taking care of others, standing up for yourself and other people if they don’t have the ability to do so is very uniquely American,” she shockingly noted straight out, instantly giving a US audience what they wanted rather than what they needed. It was the sort of American exceptionalism that belongs to those she claims to despise.

The idea that if you can’t beat them, then you join them, doesn’t work in looking for a new path.


But if that was a slip of the tongue – however unlikely – what else has she done at a time of maximum attention? Fucked and blinded into mics? Acted like a clown on stages, making herself a joke who then wants to be taken seriously when talking on important issues? Contrast all this with someone like Kaepernick who has not only remained dignified but kept his message on point. As for her, aside from all else, by stretching her campaigning too far, she also devalues it and that’s before the dislike.

There has been much good sentiment for sure, but it’s been lost by someone that has constantly put her image before her message. That it did lead to the hashtag of #Rapinoe2020 only encapsulated the misplaced hysteria as many were excited without ever delving into what they were excited by, thus all the box-ticking.

There’s been the faux-redemption element as her brother was in a Nazi gang and tattooed in swastikas as if a positive for no real reason, with her saying, “I could rationalise them, I understood that when he first got in there [prison], he was searching for identity, trying to survive.” There’s also been the rags to riches and contrived escapism too with the idea California is a drug-riddled cesspit.

Desperate times, more desperate measures in the search for a hero.


Perhaps this is the problem with a president as odious and obnoxious, as xenophobic as racist, as creepy as misogynist as Donald Trump. It’s also the problem with a more global shift from Jair Bolsonaro to Rodrigo Duterte, from Recep Erdoğan to Viktor Orbán. It can initially make it seem like anyone standing up to them in any way coming across as worthy of support but that’s not always the case. How you stand up to someone can be as important as who you stand up to.

To play the game of the far-right suits them as it’s a divide-and-conquer approach to society. And it’s when there’s the greatest split imaginable among views that they make their move. It’s an ideology based on fear and Rapinoe’s tactic or lack of one, only adds to that. If she wants to stand up, the best way is to keep the middle ground and to share her message in a calm and collected manner as you don’t balance out an ideological shift by trying to move in the other direction. It’s not a scales for do that and there’s a failure, not just of someone’s goals, but of a political system. Go lower and we are all doomed.

Yet, that’s what Rapinoe has done to finally get past the noise and to reach her words and you get much of the same methodology. It’s loud, brash, controversial, angry, insulting, and unbecoming. Basically, it does as much harm as good. It’s ultimately right-wing in many regards.

It leaves the feeling not of standing up for those that need a voice, but of a capitalisation on what’s going on in the world. That’s right-wing too of course.

Rapinoe might well be a bright star right now, however, it’s sadly shining its light mostly on her and her brand.

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Author: Ewan MacKenna

One of the country's top sports journalists, and a recipient of Irish Sports Journalist of the Year.