A quick recap of Megan Rapinoe’s past few weeks: she preemptively declined a White House visit, was admonished to "WIN before she TALKS," and then just went ahead and won not only the final but also every individual award possible.
If she flexed any harder, the sheer power of it probably would have caused an earthquake to tear through all of Western Europe. Then again, that’s a lot like what the Americans did throughout the World Cup, anyway—strutting into it like Trinity and Neo strut into that office-building lobby in The Matrix Reloaded ready to blow the whole thing up (except the women’s team had more ammunition).
They never trailed and they never let up—and most importantly, they never apologized for any of it. It was a tour of destruction, a master class in not having the slightest bit of concern for anyone’s feelings, all scored by the symphony of deafening crowds demanding equal pay. Nothing was going to stand in the way of their ultimate goal: victory, on and off the pitch.
The favorites aren’t usually the ones playing with utter desperation, but the Americans were on a mission from the moment they exited the plane in France. With the talent gap steadily closing in women’s soccer, there were teams with the skill to beat them: just none who could match their will to win. It was more than the desire to win that was pushing the Americans; it was their message.
They knew that, if they kept winning, the world would keep watching; and if the world kept watching, it would have to keep listening, too. To be leaders in the movement for equality and social justice but only have one shot every four years at a grand stage to broadcast those messages is a whole new level of pressure. But as coach Jill Ellis said (in the very most action-movie-hero way possible), “some teams will visit pressure; we live in it.” It’s this spirit that made the Americans so formidable and made their winning so memorable.
Gutting out victory after victory, the champs provided us with so many unforgettable moments and iconic snapshots, from Alex Morgan sipping tea to Rose Lavelle giving us a chilling homage to Brandi Chastain. Still, the most striking moment of all was when Rapinoe—leader of the pack, commander in chief of this invincible army of world-movers—went onstage to accept her awards, not slouched with tired contentment but standing tall with immense pride.
In a split second, this symbol of toughness and ferocity morphed into a breathtaking monument of grace and beauty, relishing her victory. She looked 100 feet tall. It was right then she showed us that some really big things are about to go down, because where most of us would have gone on that stage weary and depleted, she went up with a smile that said, “Nah, we’re just getting started.”
All along, these Americans have been fighting for change and now stand among the likes of Mohammad Ali, Colin Kaepernick, and all those who used their platforms to speak out against injustice. They tower as champions who weren’t content to just be the best at their craft but to use it to effect change in the world. The battles they face on the pitch are just the prelude to the war they wage each day against the status quo that oppresses them. They proudly wear the American colors, and as Americans they fight for women, minorities, immigrants, refugees, and everyone else continually misunderstood and wronged by deep, systematic flaws in their country. They won the World Cup because they could never lose, just like they’ll never lose off the pitch either.
Perhaps the best thing about their indelible World Cup run is that its impact will continue beyond the parades and talk show appearances over the following weeks. There is an entire generation of youth that now see these Americans as heroes. They saw that winning in sports is cool, but what’s even cooler is helping others win in life. They will feel empowered to speak up for what they believe in and go out and fight for it. They will talk their talk and know they can walk it, too. Just like Rapinoe. Just like Lloyd. Just like Krieger. It’s been hard to know what it means to be an American in this decade, but they’ve been telling us this whole time. Since we weren’t listening, they just showed us instead.
Now, pay them already.