COU­PLE GOALS

Sue Bird (far left) and Me­gan Rapi­noe in Off-white c/o Virgil Abloh blaz­ers and pants and Anita Ko jew­elry.

InStyle (USA) - - Directory - Pho­tographed by Beau Gre­aly.

AAs any­one who watched the Women’s World Cup this past sum­mer knows, soc­cer star Me­gan Rapi­noe is un­flap­pable. When the pres­i­dent of the United States fired an­tag­o­nis­tic tweets her way, ques­tion­ing her pa­tri­o­tism and es­sen­tially dar­ing her to win the tour­na­ment, she (along with the other 22 play­ers on the U.S. na­tional women’s soc­cer team) did just that. (She even took home the Golden Boot as the top scorer and the Golden Ball as the MVP.) When she was called on to con­vert high­stakes penalty-kick op­por­tu­ni­ties into goals be­fore a sold-out sta­dium of scream­ing su­per­fans, Rapi­noe scored while hardly breaking a sweat. When asked to speak fol­low­ing the team’s celebrator­y ticker-tape pa­rade in New York City, she stepped up to the podium like a pur­ple-haired guru to de­liver a mem­o­rable speech that tran­scended sports clichés and urged the chant­ing crowd to be­come kinder peo­ple.

“This is my charge to ev­ery­one. We have to be bet­ter. We have to love more. Hate less. We’ve got to lis­ten more and talk less. We’ve got to know that this is every­body’s re­spon­si­bil­ity. Ev­ery sin­gle per­son here. Ev­ery sin­gle per­son who’s not here. Ev­ery sin­gle per­son who doesn’t want to be here. Ev­ery sin­gle per­son who agrees and doesn’t agree. It’s our re­spon­si­bil­ity to make this world a bet­ter place.”

Two weeks later in Seat­tle, Rapi­noe, decked out in her own Acne top, Issey Miyake shorts, and Burberry sun­glasses, ad­mits that the speech was un­re­hearsed. “Peo­ple were like, ‘Did you plan that?’ Um, no. I would say about 90 per­cent of it was off-the-cuff. The Cham­pagne was flow­ing [at the pa­rade]. I had no idea how long I was up there.”

But there is at least one way to make the co-cap­tain of the world’s most suc­cess­ful women’s soc­cer team lose her cool. When her girl­friend, Sue Bird—the 11-time WNBA Al­ls­tar—steps out for this photo shoot styled in high-fash­ion fin­ery, Rapi­noe, who is used to see­ing Bird in sportier at­tire, is agog. “Oh my god, what a dream!” she says ex­cit­edly when Bird walks into the room wear­ing an over­size Gucci suit. “You don’t let me put you in stuff like this. I love it!”

And therein lies their sweet dy­namic, which has pretty much ex­isted since the pair met at the 2016 Rio Olympics. When the women’s soc­cer team failed to make the semi­fi­nals—rapi­noe was ham­pered by a knee in­jury—they used their free time to cheer on the U.S. bas­ket­ball team, led by Bird.

At an af­ter-party cel­e­brat­ing the bas­ket­ball team’s gold medal, “Sue’s friends say that she lin­gered around the ta­ble, but I didn’t re­ally no­tice that too much,” re­calls Rapi­noe with a big grin. But they soon met up on their home turf of Seat­tle, where Bird is the vet­eran point guard for the Seat­tle Storm and Rapi­noe plays for­ward for Ta­coma’s Reign FC.

By fall 2016 they were an item. Two years later Rapi­noe moved into Bird’s condo in Seat­tle’s Queen Anne neigh­bor­hood, where she films In­sta­gram sto­ries re­mark­ing on the num­ber of sneak­ers in #the­sue­closet.

As play­ful as they are, Rapi­noe and Bird are not to be tri­fled with on the field or on the court. Be­tween them, they lay claim to five Olympic gold medals, four FIBA World Cups, three NCAA cham­pi­onships, three WNBA cham­pi­onships, and two FIFA World Cups. Not only are they ath­letic role mod­els, but they are ac­tual mod­els too. Last June they were the first same-sex cou­ple to ap­pear nude in ESPN ’s Body Is­sue, and this past May Rapi­noe was the first gay woman fea­tured in Sports Il­lus­trated’s Swim­suit Is­sue.

At this point in their ca­reers,

they are in a unique po­si­tion to know what they’re worth and also to un­der­stand that they won’t be able to play for­ever. (Rapi­noe, 34, and Bird, 39, are among the old­est ath­letes in their re­spec­tive leagues.) “Progress is re­ally hard, and car­ry­ing the torch is re­ally hard, but you find a way to man­age it and do it,” says Rapi­noe.

Fol­low­ing through on her charge to “do bet­ter,” they are out­spo­ken ad­vo­cates for is­sues re­lat­ing to equal pay, gen­der equal­ity, and racial jus­tice. Com­ing off the World Cup, Rapi­noe has be­come just as in­flu­en­tial off the field as she has on it. This past March, on In­ter­na­tional Women’s Day, the U.S. women’s na­tional soc­cer team sued the United States Soc­cer Fed­er­a­tion for gen­der dis­crim­i­na­tion. Ac­cord­ing to The New York Times, “the dis­crim­i­na­tion af­fects not only their pay­checks, but also where they play and how of­ten, how they train, the med­i­cal treat­ment and coach­ing they re­ceive, and even how they travel to matches.” “We’re sick and tired of be­ing dis­re­spected,” Rapi­noe says. “It’s not even re­ally about equal pay per se. It’s just what we’re worth and what is fair. It’s al­ways be­ing looked at as, ‘Oh, this is what you de­serve, so you should be happy.’ Well, no one’s happy about it.” She con­tin­ues, “I’ve said this for a long time, but I think the men de­serve to be paid more too. I don’t think the fed­er­a­tion is bla­tantly that sex­ist. If they’re not pay­ing us what we’re worth, they’re cer­tainly not pay­ing them what they’re worth. It’s not a greatrun busi­ness in my opin­ion. We’re both just kind of cash cows [for the fed­er­a­tion].” Bird just or­ga­nized a deal with USA Bas­ket­ball so that the top play­ers are paid enough to stay in the States to train to­gether ahead of next sum­mer’s 2020 Tokyo Olympics. (Nor­mally, once the WNBA sea­son is over, the play­ers hot­foot it over­seas to play in Rus­sia and China, where they can earn sig­nif­i­cantly more money.) “In 20 years I want to be that dis­grun­tled pro­fes­sional ath­lete who’s re­tired and is like, ‘Oh, I only made $100,000, and now they’re mak­ing a mil­lion,’” says Bird, laugh­ing. “I feel like if I’m that per­son, that means I did some­thing right.” Though their as­pi­ra­tions are sim­i­lar, Rapi­noe and Bird could be a case study in op­po­sites at­tract. “I’m kind of wild, and peo­ple are fuck­ing here for it,” Rapi­noe jokes, whereas Bird is “more pri­vate and keeps things close to the vest.” Rapi­noe fa­vors high fash­ion and ex­pen­sive beauty prod­ucts and is con­tem­plat­ing Bo­tox; Bird is a sporty sneak­er­head who barely washes her face and uses $4 mois­tur­izer from CVS. In a now-leg­endary blog post that Bird penned for The Play­ers’ Tribune en­ti­tled “So the Pres­i­dent F*ck­ing Hates My Girl­friend,” she stated that see­ing the world through “Me­gan gog­gles” has helped her loosen up a bit: “Me­gan, she just does things some­times. Do it...then love it...then—later, at the very end, if there’s time—worry about it. That’s her M.O. Me, on the other hand...i’m noth­ing like that. I’m more of the worry about it first...and then later, if there’s time, do it type.” It ended with Bird pro­fess­ing her love for Rapi­noe, who says that the piece “had her in to­tal tears” when she read it. When the two are home, morn­ings are sa­cred. Wak­ing up around 7 or 8, they start off “with a good cud­dle” and then Rapi­noe will make cof­fee. Rapi­noe was once less con­cerned about her diet, but Bird’s clean-eat­ing reg­i­men has taken over. On the hour-long com­mute to and from Ta­coma, Rapi­noe lis­tens ei­ther to pod­casts such as Pod Save Amer­ica and Un­cover or to noth­ing at all, a rare mo­ment of zen. Bird re­cently binged on HBO’S Eu­pho­ria and Big Lit­tle Lies, but Rapi­noe missed out on watch­ing them over the sum­mer be­cause, she says, laugh­ing, “I was on a work trip.” To have a part­ner who un­der­stands the de­mands re­quired of an elite ath­lete is in­valu­able, Rapi­noe says. Of­ten their sched­ules don’t align or they are on dif­fer­ent tracks. When Rapi­noe re­turned from the World Cup, she was “emo­tion­ally, psy­cho­log­i­cally, and phys­i­cally tapped out.” On her first night home they went to a quiet din­ner with friends. “You have to plan it, and some­times it’s hard,” says Bird. “If we know that the next day is a day off or go­ing to be lighter, maybe we can have a few drinks.” Given all the at­ten­tion of the past few months, is go­ing out even an op­tion? “We get stopped quite a bit,” says Bird. “The pur­ple hair doesn’t help. There have been days like, ‘Whoa, this is a lot.’ ” For two down-to-earth peo­ple, the celebrity as­pect can be over­whelm­ing. Bird re­counts go­ing to Nobu in New York City af­ter the World Cup pa­rade in July and hav­ing the en­tire restau­rant break out into a stand­ing ova­tion for her girl­friend. Overall, the re­sponse—to them, their story, their re­la­tion­ship—has been mostly pos­i­tive. “Things have changed for the bet­ter in a lot of ways, but fig­ur­ing out how to nav­i­gate it all is hard,” says Bird. “Espe­cially with the in­crease in recog­ni­tion. We’re not used to it, and we’re still just nor­mal, you know? We’re not like an NBA player who has mil­lions of dol­lars to hire se­cu­rity and a driver. We’re just try­ing to fig­ure those things out on the fly.” Not that they’re com­plain­ing. The of­fers at the mo­ment are boun­ti­ful. Rapi­noe has al­ready signed a two-book deal with Pen­guin Press. The first will be a me­moir, while the sec­ond is with the pub­lisher’s im­print, Ra­zor­bill. She has yet to re­turn to the pitch for the Reign be­cause of var­i­ous in­juries, but she hopes to soon. She wants to make sure that she’s at 100 per­cent be­cause the Olympics are com­ing up. As is al­ways the way with th­ese two star ath­letes, if they do both make it to Ja­pan, they doubt they will get to see each other due to travel and sched­ules. “The soc­cer games are ev­ery­where, and then the semi­fi­nal or just the fi­nal is usu­ally in the host city,” says Rapi­noe. “Hope­fully, we’ll get there.” In the mean­time, Rapi­noe will keep beat­ing the drum. There is the on­go­ing me­di­a­tion with the U.S. Soc­cer Fed­er­a­tion and a po­ten­tial trip to Wash­ing­ton, D.C., to take up Speaker Nancy Pelosi on her in­vi­ta­tion to talk. (Rapi­noe notes they won’t be stop­ping at the White House.) “As a fe­male ath­lete, you kind of wait your whole life to be in a po­si­tion where you can cap­i­tal­ize on this. And it’s at a point where it’s never been, and it’s so ex­cit­ing.” She hopes that her ex­cite­ment for the game ex­tends to the fans. “I don’t un­der­stand why, if you’re a soc­cer fan, you wouldn’t want to come and watch the best,” Rapi­noe says. “So, un­til some­one can tell me a bet­ter rea­son than fans just don’t want to come to watch women, or com­pa­nies just don’t want to pay women or don’t see po­ten­tial in that, then it’s just sex­ism to me. Peo­ple are al­ways ask­ing me how to bet­ter the state of women’s sports, and I’m like, ‘Fuck­ing go to the games.’ ” And, of course, when the world is bang­ing down their door, Rapi­noe knows who she can turn to. “I love the shit out of you,” she says to Bird. “I al­ways tell her, ‘If you break up with me, I’m go­ing to crum­ble. I’ll be a pile of ashes. So think about it, be­cause you’ll ruin my life.’ ”

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