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LGBTQ and Gender Inequality: Megan Rapinoe Speaks at Cornell

Cornell had the honor of hosting Olympic gold medalist and World Cup champion soccer player, Megan Rapinoe, at Newman Arena on Thursday. Rapinoe spoke to a packed crowd full of students, faculty, and many members of the local community. She traveled to Ithaca on behalf of the Cornell chapter of Athlete Ally and club president and women’s ice hockey captain, Cassandra Poudrier. Athlete Ally is a nonprofit group whose goal is to end homophobia and transphobia in the athletic community. Rapinoe, an active advocate for the organization, travels to inform the world about her story and perspective on this prevalent societal issue. Former Big Red women’s hockey player, Morgan McKim, moderated the discussion, which took place in two chairs at center-court in Newman.

McKim, who had a list of questions ready, began by asking about Rapinoe’s ACL recovery process. Rapinoe had been a staple in the midfield throughout the United State’s World Cup title run, but after her third ACL tear sustained during training for a victory tour match in Hawaii, she has been sidelined since early December. While it is unclear if Rapinoe is attempting to return in time for the Rio Olympics in the summer, she did say that recovery is going smoothly. “I was really happy with how my surgery went,” she said in high spirits, also noting, “I have a great team and medical staff around me.”

McKim then asked Rapinoe a few questions regarding her most recent accomplishment: the World Cup. Rapinoe described this major event, which happened to occur on her birthday, as “nerve-wracking.” In addition, she joked that “it was kind of over” about twenty minutes into play. Joined by her friends and family in Canada, Rapinoe won her first World Cup, and the program’s third, netting two goals and tallying two assists along the way.

While there were many questions McKim was itching to ask Rapinoe, the main purpose of the sit-down was to discuss LGBTQ and gender inequality in athletics. Rapinoe admits that she felt different when she was young, but did not quite know why, stating, “I never felt it when I was young. I always knew that I felt differently and wasn’t quite the same as everyone else, but kind of chalked it up to sports and being a little different in that way.”

Rapinoe told the audience that she really figured out who she was once she went to college. However, unlike many others in her situation, her struggles were a little unusual. Rapinoe talked about how she was never really afraid to express her true self because, instead, she adopted more of a “take me or leave me” attitude.

One of the major issues discussed was whether or not Rapinoe felt it is necessary to be an athlete who “comes out.” On this topic she mentioned, “I think women don’t feel like they need to come out. It’s just so accepted. Their life isn’t affected in any way being a female athlete.”

While this view is widely accepted, her personal opinion is different. “Being out is incredibly important. It just was feeling like, ‘Why am I not?’ This is important to me but it’s important on such a bigger level,” Rapinoe described.

She ended her discussion on the issue with a word of advice to the Athlete Ally community by advising allies to “really think about it. For straight athletes or allies, really take a second to think about it and have empathy and sympathy. You don’t have to be gay to make a difference in the gay community,” explained Rapinoe.

At this point, McKim began shifting the conversation to gender inequality and the impact of the United States Women’s National Team on the controversy. Rapinoe discussed the growth of the game and the lengths the sport will need to go in order to be on a more even playing field with the men. She reflects on what the game was like when she began playing, saying, “I see it just continuing to grow. I’ve been really lucky to be a women’s soccer player in this particular era to see how much it’s grown. When I was first on the team nine years ago, it just was so different. 7,000 people at the games and not as many people watching.” Although it is clear that the game has come a long way, there is still far too much that needs to be changed.

The news has been flooded lately with stories about gender inequality on the athletic front. Most notably, there was the World Cup controversy surrounding why the women were playing on turf as opposed to grass – a problem that would never occur in the men’s game. After this incident, the USWNT cancelled a victory tour match in Hawaii due to inadequate and unsafe field conditions.

To Rapinoe, it all starts with those in charge of making decisions. “For me it really just boils down to people at the top making a choice. They’re making a choice for unequal conditions for men and women. There’s no reason we should be playing on different surfaces, staying in different accommodations, traveling a different way,” argued Rapinoe. “I think a lot more thought needs to be put into those positions at the top. A lot more women need to be put in those positions at the top.” Rapinoe could actually end up being one of those people herself. When asked if she would ever run for a leadership position in FIFA or U.S. Soccer, she responded promptly, “Yeah, I could see that.”

Recently, USWNT star Alex Morgan spoke up on Twitter about unacceptable hotel accommodations in Kansas City provided by U.S. Soccer. The hotel supposedly had bed bugs, and Morgan was less than pleased, as she called out the organization on social media. When Rapinoe was asked whether or not she believes that things like this help the cause, she replied, “I think so…I think you need to do it in a certain way because, otherwise, it’s just a splash, and it’s able to be pushed under the rug. For us, we’ve been speaking as a team, as a whole, to speak to these issues as a collective group consistently.”

Rapinoe also acknowledged the work done by Golden Glove goalkeeper, Hope Solo, to steadily get the word out about inequality. “Hope’s done a brilliant job actually tweeting out the s****y fields we play on all the time, and it’s really great because she’s willing to put her neck out there, and it’s consistent,” Rapinoe elaborated.

FIFA has been under a microscope lately since a scandal involving suspended President Sepp Blatter, and many people believe that it may be the start of drastic changes benefitting women in particular. Rapinoe and the USWNT will continue to be the voices of change in an athletic community where many believe the U.S. is lagging behind.

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