Megan Rapinoe, Sue Bird Discuss Social Activism, Race, Role as Female Athletes

Joseph Zucker@@JosephZuckerFeatured ColumnistJune 21, 2020

CHICAGO, IL - FEBRUARY 16: Sue Bird of the Seattle Storm and Megan Rapinoe of USA soccer talk with Chiney Ogwumike of the Los Angeles Sparks during the 69th NBA All-Star Game as part of 2020 NBA All-Star Weekend on February 16, 2020 at United Center in Chicago, Illinois. NOTE TO USER: User expressly acknowledges and agrees that, by downloading and/or using this Photograph, user is consenting to the terms and conditions of the Getty Images License Agreement. Mandatory Copyright Notice: Copyright 2020 NBAE (Photo by Allison Farrand/NBAE via Getty Images)
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Ahead of their hosting gig for Sunday's broadcast of the ESPYS, Megan Rapinoe and Sue Bird spoke about the importance they feel to help further the social causes that are the focus of the ongoing demonstrations across the country. 

"Something that Megan likes to say is that right now, things are being written down in permanent marker in our history," Bird said to espnW.com's Katie Barnes. "What side do you want to be on? I just think there's something powerful about that."

Rapinoe was one of the first athletes to show support for former San Francisco 49ers quarterback Colin Kaepernick when she knelt for the national anthem prior to an NWSL game in September 2016.

She continued the protest before two United States national women's soccer team matches before U.S. Soccer instituted a policy requiring national team players to stand for the anthem. The organization repealed the policy earlier this month.

Rapinoe also drew the ire of President Donald Trump when she told Eight by Eight magazine she was "not going to the f--king White House" if the USWNT won the 2019 FIFA Women's World Cup (warning: tweet contains profanity):

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The 2019 Ballon d'Or winner told Barnes she considers being outspoken about social injustice a top priority, especially given the power imbalance along racial lines:

"I look at it from a few different perspectives. First of all, we're white people in this country, right, so we have privilege. We didn't earn it, but we have a responsibility to, you know, make it even. I've been doing a little bit of reading, as I think we all have, and just kind of digging into the ideas about anti-racism more than just not being racist. In order for something to be anti-racism, whatever it is you're doing actually has to balance it out. So we've been given this privilege, we stole this privilege, frankly. I felt this immediately -- and it was very stark in my life after the World Cup. Now people are like, "Oh, this is so amazing, you're standing [against] social injustice and you're talking on all these things." And whether that's paid appearances or, you know, a book deal, or award shows, or just in general.

"It's not just because I played well at the World Cup, and it's not just because I speak on social issues. I'm white -- that's the really big part of it. There's a reason Colin Kaepernick is not in the NFL right now and why he was blackballed in the way that he was. I think everybody has a responsibility to do what they can in the most impactful way that they can."

Bird added that advocating for large-scale change is something to which she and her colleagues have grown accustomed.

"Female athletes are used to having to fight for themselves," the Seattle Storm star said. "Female athletes are used to being pushed to the side and not having the attention they deserve. And so with that, they're used to using their voices, they're used to having to advocate for themselves, for each other and in my case for a league."

In a March 2016 piece for The Players' Tribune, Bird highlighted the WNBA's lack of available advanced metrics compared to the NBA. The WNBA revealed a complete overhaul to its stats page in May 2019.

Bird also worked behind the scenes to secure the WNBA's new collective bargaining agreement, which went into effect with the 2020 season. Among other things, the new CBA raised the maximum salary from $117,500 to $215,000, and players will receive their full base salary for any time they miss due to pregnancy.

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