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A Look At What Makes Megan Rapinoe So Special

MARY LOUISE KELLY, HOST:

Gather your children in front of the flat screen, and instruct them to fix their eyes on number 15, the winger with lavender hair. That is the opening line of a piece from writer Franklin Foer on U.S. women's soccer team co-captain Megan Rapinoe. The team is through to the semi-finals of the World Cup after beating host nation France, a game in which Rapinoe scored both goals. Foer calls her a hero of resistance, and he continues, quote, "tell them - your children - that Megan Rapinoe is her generation's Muhammad Ali."

Well, Franklin Foer, welcome to ALL THINGS CONSIDERED.

FRANKLIN FOER: Pleasure.

KELLY: For those who have not been glued to the flat screen during this Women's World Cup, describe her style of play.

FOER: So Megan Rapinoe is an incredibly dynamic, creative player. She runs at defenders. And her game is all about trickery...

KELLY: Trickery, OK.

FOER: ...Juking players out. She hits the ball with incredible bend. And you can never really count on where the trajectory of a Megan Rapinoe kick is going to go.

KELLY: She also just seems to play with such joy.

FOER: And that's exactly the point. So on the eve of this World Cup, the U.S. Women's National Team sued their employer, demanding equal pay, better playing conditions. In the course of this tournament, she's gotten into a Twitter war with the president of the United States. And instead of faltering under the pressure, she seems to soak it in and enjoy it. She plays, as you say, with this kind of joy that beams out of her.

KELLY: So this controversy with Twitter that you referenced - this came about after Megan Rapinoe was asked would she go to the White House if the team wins the World Cup. She said, I am not going to the White House, except she used somewhat more colorful language than that. She did later apologize for swearing, but she did not apologize for the sentiment. Here's what she said.

(SOUNDBITE OF ARCHIVED RECORDING)

MEGAN RAPINOE: I don't think that I would want to go. And I would encourage my teammates to think hard about lending that platform or having that co-opted by an administration that doesn't feel the same way and doesn't fight for the same things that we fight for.

KELLY: The president tweeted that, quote, "Megan should never disrespect our country, the White House or our flag." Franklin Foer, it prompts the question - she is trying to score goals in the World Cup as she is engaging in this Twitter war with the president. How does she cope with that kind of pressure?

FOER: She loves it. In a way, this is the culmination of her long career as a social activist. She was the first white player to stand in solidarity with NFL star Colin Kaepernick. And she's been outspoken in criticizing sexism and racial injustice. So I think that she relishes the opportunity to use this tournament to talk about things that she cares deeply about.

KELLY: Let me push you on the Muhammad Ali comparison. I mean, I get it - famous athlete, great athlete, famous also for political activism off the field. But Muhammad Ali - I mean, this is somebody who was fighting, I think, before you and I were alive to remember it. And we still know who he was, what he did, what he stood for. Do you think Megan Rapinoe is really the Muhammad Ali of her generation?

FOER: Muhammad Ali suffered in ways that Megan Rapinoe never will suffer. He was sentenced to prison. He placed his entire career on the line for the sake of the things that he believed in. And so there's one way in which it doesn't really hold up as a comparison. But the point that I was trying to make is that it's very, very rare that you have an athlete who is at the top of her game and who uses her platform for the sake of taking on the system, and she's done it in ways that are Ali-esque. She's a once-in-a-generation sort of athlete.

KELLY: Franklin Foer - he is a staff writer for The Atlantic and also author of "How Soccer Explains The World." Franklin, thank you.

FOER: Thank you.

KELLY: And tomorrow, Megan Rapinoe and the U.S. women's national team play England for a shot at the 2019 World Cup final.

(SOUNDBITE OF LEONARD COHEN SONG, "I CAN'T FORGET") Transcript provided by NPR, Copyright NPR.


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