'Be Better': Soccer Star Rapinoe Takes Sports Illustrated to Task in Speech

December 11th, 2019 12:03 AM

Sports Illustrated announced Monday that United States Women’s National Soccer team star Megan Rapinoe is its 2019 "Sportsperson of the Year."

However, what has taken much of the media by storm is the way she accepted the award. In true Rapinoe fashion, she used the opportunity to push her activism, while throwing Sports Illustrated itself under the proverbial bus.

Rapinoe discussed how the people in the room (largely filled with media personnel and herself, a “public figure”) are the “gatekeepers” of stories. The decision-makers who “bear witness to the stories around us, and the truth that we see.”

She continued:

Is it true that I am the fourth woman deserving of this award? I don’t think so. Is it true that so few writers of color deserve to be featured in this publication? No. Is it true that so few women’s voices deserve to be heard, and deserve to be read, in this publication? I don’t think so. And thus, my success. Let’s come to that. I think my success bears witness to, not only the necessity of speaking truth to power, but also just the power of truth.”

Rapinoe finished by saying simply, “Let’s just be better.”

A quick fact-check on that said truth.

Rapinoe is not merely the fourth woman to receive this award. She is the fourth woman who is the “sole-recipient” of it.

Tennis star Chris Evert was the first woman to be given the sole honor in 1976. The second individual honor went to gold medalist runner Mary Decker in 1983. And Tennis superstar Serena Williams was the last individual female to win the award in 2015.

Other women to be co-featured are: tennis champion Billie Jean King (in 1972 with UCLA head coach John Wooden,) Olympic gymnast Mary Lou Retton (1984 with Olympic hurdler Edwin Moses,) Patty Sheehan and Judi Brown King (1987 along with six men in a group dubbed “Athletes Who Care,") Olympic speed skater Bonnie Blair (1994 with fellow speed skater Johann Olav Koss,) the 1999 U.S. woman’s soccer team, Tennessee Vols head coach Pat Summit (2011 with Duke head coach Mike Krzyzewski,) per MSN.

How important is that differentiation?

On the surface, not very. It could be written-off as merely an oversight by Rapinoe.

Except for the fact that she spent her entire speech discussing a room’s responsibility to shape the history of sports media, and culture as a whole.

So, in the spirit of truth, and as a “gatekeeper” of stories myself, it is an important aspect of the story; important to highlight the irony (or hypocrisy, depending on who is asked) of Rapinoe mischaracterizing the statistics in order to push her agenda. And push it at the expense of those giving her the award.

Full video of her acceptance speech can be found here.