Megan Rapinoe Changed the Game, On and Off the Field
By: Sarah Kichula
October 24, 2023
Photo Credit: Getty Images
On Friday, Oct. 6, 2023, Megan Rapinoe played her last regular season game with her NWSL team, Seattle Reign FC. Earlier this year, Rapinoe also played her last game with the U.S. Women’s National Team (USWNT) in the Round of 16 of the Women’s World Cup. Now that she’s retired, USWNT fans will remember Rapinoe not just for her stellar play on the field, but also for the way she used the sport “to affect change in a larger way,” at least according to the legend herself.
Equal Pay, Equal Play
In 2019, led by Rapinoe’s leadership and perseverance, the USWNT sued the U.S. Soccer Federation for gender discrimination. Although the team lost in court, they fought for an appeal, which led to a large settlement and the U.S. Soccer Federation adjusting the terms of their revenue sharing model.
For context, in the last 10 months, both the USWNT and the U.S. Men’s National Team (USMNT) were each eliminated in the Round of 16 at the FIFA World Cup. FIFA does not distribute an equal amount of prize money for the Men’s World Cup and the Women’s World Cup, so the USMNT earned $13 million from FIFA while the women’s team only earned $1.9 million. However, after the aforementioned court case and appeal, the U.S. Soccer Federation decided that the USWNT and the U.S. Men’s National Team (USMNT) should split their prize money equally, so both teams wound up with $6.7 million each from their comparable performances in their respective World Cups.
Additionally, clubs from the Netherlands, Norway, Austria, and more have followed in the USWNT’s footsteps, making significant steps to close the gender-based wage gap in professional soccer. While the progress made was a team effort, Rapinoe’s powerful voice stood out amongst the group. Megan Rapinoe used her platform as one of the best women’s soccer players of all time to spearhead the fight for gender equality, inspiring women around the world to do the same.
After the conclusion of the FIFA Women’s World Cup, Rapinoe returned to the club level for her curtain call. Her last regular-season match broke the NWSL record attendance mark, as over 34,000 fans flooded the stands to see Rapinoe take her final bow with OL Reign. Led by her immense popularity, the league's overall attendance has steadily increased over the years, and this season, it surpassed one million fans for the first time in league history.
Upon her retirement, Rapinoe pointed out that without the NWSL, her World Cup performances would not have reached such a consistently high level over the years, especially late in her career. Unlike the short-lived professional women’s soccer leagues of the past, the NWSL has been able to attract top-level players, such as Rapinoe, to the league’s clubs. This has been a crucial factor for the league’s long-term sustainability, as star talents, such as Rapinoe, are key ways for the NWSL to increase their viewership, level of competition, and values of individual teams within the league.
All in all, Megan Rapinoe has undoubtedly changed women’s soccer (and arguably women’s sports as a whole) forever. While Rapinoe is now retired, her impact and legacy will continue on.