Lessons to a Young Girl From Megan Rapinoe

Rapinoe has proven herself as one of her generation’s most talented players. Off the field, Rapinoe has been a leader on crucial social issues.

Megan Rapinoe during the FIFA Women’s World Cup Australia & New Zealand 2023 on Aug. 6, 2023 in Melbourne, Australia. (Jose Breton / Pics Action / NurPhoto via Getty Images)

Megan Rapinoe hung up her soccer cleats after the final U.S. game of the 2023 World Cup. Throughout her career, Rapinoe has proven herself as one of the most talented female players of her generation, bringing home two World Cup wins and an Olympic gold medal. Off the field, Rapinoe has been a leader on crucial social issues like LGBTQ+ rights, racial justice, gender equality and pay equity. To many of her fans, her profile as a fierce agent for change is the defining component of her legacy. 

Count me among them.

Rapinoe’s brightly colored hair and unconventional fashion inspired me and showed me that everyone is different—and that women don’t always fit into boxes. 

As a young, soccer-obsessed girl, U.S. Women’s National Team members were my role models. Megan Rapinoe encompassed everything that I thought a skilled soccer player should be. I couldn’t watch enough of her games, mimicking the graceful way she performed with a soccer ball in my bedroom. My affinity for soccer followed Rapinoe’s rise to fame. As I developed new skills, basking in the joy of every practice and game, the media praised Rapinoe’s impressive record on whatever team she played on.

Around the time I noticed Rapinoe stepping up for social change, I was developing a more acute awareness of the different expectations for myself and my male peers. Rapinoe’s brightly colored hair and unconventional fashion inspired me and showed me that everyone is different—and that women don’t always fit into boxes. 

As Rapinoe emerged into the spotlight, she leveraged her fame to disrupt social norms and change the conversation. Knowing that she holds influence in the media, she used her platform to stand up for equal pay, filing a lawsuit alongside other USWNT players against the U.S. Soccer Federation for gender discrimination. In so doing, she thrust unequal pay between the sexes—an issue that has transcended the athletic arena since women entered the workplace—onto the world stage.

In February 2022, the Federation pledged to compensate male and female players equally for all scrimmages, games and tournaments, including the World Cup—a decisive victory in the gender equality fight. 

As evidence of the widespread impact and effectiveness of Rapinoe’s activism, many conservative politicians and other detractors tried to make a spectacle of her this summer, refusing to watch the Women’s National Team games—a clear indicator that she is making waves. 

The fact that Megan Rapinoe is first equated with the social causes she stands for, then celebrated as a professional athlete is more motivating to me as a young player than any of her trophies or titles. More athletes, celebrities and people in positions of influence should strive to achieve recognition not only for successful careers but for what they stand for the world they helped to better and the systems they disrupted, remolded and reshaped to benefit future generations. 

Up next:

U.S. democracy is at a dangerous inflection point—from the demise of abortion rights, to a lack of pay equity and parental leave, to skyrocketing maternal mortality, and attacks on trans health. Left unchecked, these crises will lead to wider gaps in political participation and representation. For 50 years, Ms. has been forging feminist journalism—reporting, rebelling and truth-telling from the front-lines, championing the Equal Rights Amendment, and centering the stories of those most impacted. With all that’s at stake for equality, we are redoubling our commitment for the next 50 years. In turn, we need your help, Support Ms. today with a donation—any amount that is meaningful to you. For as little as $5 each month, you’ll receive the print magazine along with our e-newsletters, action alerts, and invitations to Ms. Studios events and podcasts. We are grateful for your loyalty and ferocity.


Hadley Levenson is a rising high school junior in New York City, senior staff writer for her school newspaper, and lifelong soccer player. She served as a summer intern for the Birnbaum Women’s Leadership Center at NYU Law.