I’ve always been an avid fan of sports. As a kid, I spent many hours watching major league baseball and branched out to other sports as I got older. My top four all-time favorite athletes list is fairly well rounded: it consists of Derek Jeter, Pudge Rodriguez, Serena Williams, and Megan Rapinoe. Megan Rapinoe (or Pinoe, for short) has had, in classic Pinoe style, a slightly different impact on my life than the others.
I got sucked in to the USWNT (United States Women’s National Team) during the 2011 World Cup. My oldest sister played soccer through high school, so I already had a decent knowledge of the game from watching her play. I first noticed Pinoe because of her hair; her almost-white short blond hair instantly distinguishes her from a sea of ponytails. However, after watching for a few minutes, I was absorbed in her style of play. Often referred to as “Gumbi” by her teammates, Pinoe has a fluid, flexible, unpredictable style of playing soccer. She effortlessly squeezes through tight spaces, maneuvers around aggressive defenders, and serves assists to her fellow forwards as if she’s delivering a Christmas gift wrapped with crisp corners and a bow. You never know what will happen next when the ball is at her feet.
Pinoe’s style had my attention, and I started learning as much about her as I could. I truly don’t remember if I suspected she was gay, but I do remember there being a sense of intrigue and enigma around her, perhaps just for me personally. She bravely came out in July of 2012 in Out magazine, in an article titled “Fever Pitch.” I read the online article multiple times, and her willingness to be open and honest only increased my admiration for her. When I learned that I’d be in Maryland at the same time her Seattle Reign FC professional team would be playing the Washington Spirit in June of 2015, I hunted through eBay listings to find a copy of the print magazine. Once that was on the way, I bought tickets to the game before I even booked the hotel for the sports performance conference I was attending that weekend.
As I walked in to the stadium that June evening, I felt a little nervous but wasn’t entirely sure why. Although I don’t remember the precise details of that game—not my specialty—it was a great turnout and a beautiful Maryland summer evening. The amount of fans there surprised me. The Maryland SoccerPlex holds 4,000 people, and that night it was filled with a lot of young female soccer players excited to see women like them play. When the game ended, a large crowd of fans conglomerated at one corner of the stands for autographs. There was no way I was going to go ahead of younger kids. I’m not an asshole, plus they reminded me of me when I was a young fan, so I hoped the crowd would clear quickly.
No such luck, and it was obvious that Pinoe was one of, if not the, biggest draws. After about 30 minutes, the players started heading towards the locker room. I was bummed, but I understood. I walked out, but as I did I glanced over my shoulder and noticed that they were walking on sidewalk that was separated only by a fence that you could easily reach in to. I hustled back, and hurried to shuffle the magazine to the page with her face. When I saw Pinoe getting close to my spot at the fence, I shoved it through with the article facing her. She came up and took it to sign it, and in that moment I kind of froze and forgot to loosen my grip so she could actually take it. Muffed hand-off aside, I managed to get out a rough thank you and she graciously signed it and moved on.
Looking back, I see this experience as one of real validation for me—here was a person who I aspired to embody, right in front of me rather than on a screen. As the years have passed, Pinoe has been a pillar of advocacy for athletes everywhere; she’s done the right thing time and time again. Her advocacy includes speaking up on LGBTQ issues, equal pay for the women’s team, and kneeling for Colin Kaepernick as a player for both the Reign FC and the national team. Pinoe is the last one to take the easy path, and she has now become an irreplaceable part of women’s soccer worldwide. I hope she sees her impact and takes credit for it. She’s certainly been an inspiration for Quiet Deviants. Whenever I question being open about my own path, I look to past interviews she’s done and try to express a similar sense of strength, grace, and poise. I’m really grateful to have her as a role model, and will be enthusiastically rooting her on during this World Cup.
Check out the original "Fever Pitch" article here: https://www.out.com/travel-nightlife/london/2012/07/02/fever-pitch