Midfielder soccer star and queer rights activist, Megan Rapinoe of Reign FC and U.S. Women’s Soccer Team has been named 2019 Sportsperson of the Year by Sports Illustrated. She becomes only the 4th woman to win the award in its sixty-six year history.
Rapinoe joins a talented cohort of athletes, coaches and teams who have been celebrated for demonstrating exceptional sportsmanship, character, and performance including Muhammad Ali, Michael Jordan and LeBron James.
Previous female winners include gymnast Mary Lou Retton, golfer Patty Sheehan, and tennis star, Serena Williams.
2019 has been a big year for Rapinoe, who’s been at the forefront of several pivotal moments in sport history.
During the Women’s World Cup earlier this year, she became the face of a movement which saw a 59,000-strong crowd chant “EQUAL PAY” at the Parc Olympique Lyonnais Stadium in France, as her team, U.S Women’s National reigned victorious.
Months prior, she led her teammates through a long and public campaign to sue the U.S Soccer Federation for equal pay.
In July, Rapinoe went on CNN to address her president and his bigotry. She refused to visit the White House after her team’s World Cup win. In September, she used her FIFA Player of the Year win to address systemic racism and homophobia.
For her advocacy and performance on field, she’s won other prestigious awards, including the Ballon d’Or (Football France’s Player of the Year), Women Sports Foundation’s Team Sportswoman of the Year, and finalist for Best FIFA Women’s Player Award. She was also named one of Glamour magazine’s Women of the Year.
True to form, the 34-year old used her win on Monday night as a platform to voice her concerns over systemic inequalities within the sports and media industry; drawing attention to the lack of diversity and calling for equal recognition, honour and valour placed on female sports-persons.
She addressed the audience at the Ziegfeld Ballroom in New York City about the importance of such stories:
“While we don’t get to choose what it is we get to witness, we are the gatekeepers of those stories. And we get to decide how we bare witness to the world around us and to the truth that we see.”
Her words were met with scattered applause before she asked: “Is it true that I’m only the fourth woman deserving of this award?” Then answering herself in a whisper, “I don’t think so.”
Powerful moment last night during Megan Rapinoe’s Sportsperson acceptance speech. pic.twitter.com/MNYzFwGMdh
— Jessica Smetana (@jessica_smetana) December 10, 2019
Co-Editor in Chief of Sports Illustrated, Steve Cannella said in a statement that despite a list of inspiriting candidates, “…choosing Megan as the Sportsperson of the Year was an easy decision. She is a force of nature on and off the field, a trailblazing soccer player who also proves every day how large and loud a voice a socially conscious athlete can have in 2019.”
Rapinoe will adorn the cover of Sports Illustrated solo, in a gown designed by Valentino, holding a behemoth-sized sledgehammer.
Her win comes just days before her U.S Women’s Soccer Team took out TIME magazine’s ATHLETE of the Year.
— TIME (@TIME) December 11, 2019