Has there ever been a more clutch sports performance?
Reggie Jackson hitting three home runs on three consecutive pitches in the World Series.
Babe Ruth famously, or infamously, calling his shot in the 1932 World Series?
Joe Namath guaranteeing a Jets win in Super Bowl III?
Muhammad Ali talking all kinds of mess and backing it up in the ring time and time again?
Try this on for size: Megan Rapinoe’s five goals in three matches – and six overall – to lead the U.S. Women’s National Team to its second consecutive Women’s World Cup title and fourth overall.Not impressed? How about doing it under the scrutiny and glare of the relentless 24-hour media cycle where molehills become mountains and interview snippets elicit a Twitterstorm of outrage, controversy, backlash and condemnation?
Her penalty kick goal in the 61st minute of Sunday’s finals gave the U.S. a 1-0 lead and set the stage for the 2-0 victory over the Netherlands and earned the Shasta County native the Golden Boot and Golden Ball as the tournament’s Most Valuable Player.
Yet, none of the on-field accomplishments will stem the tide of resentment and disdain after her brash — and honest — comments from a June interview where she proclaimed, “I’m not going to the (expletive) White House” should the women’s team win the World Cup.
Conservatives blasted her, including many in her hometown – an oddly Red island in the Blue sea that is California.
Liberals championed her for speaking up against what she sees as inequality and injustice.
And lost in the din of talking heads, Twitter-tantrums and tribal lines is one of the greatest American sporting performances on a world stage.
The sad thing is Rapinoe is in a no-win situation. If she speaks her mind, she’s going to be hated by those who find her remarks not to their liking. If she stays silent, she betrays herself and those who’ve fought for equality in the LGBTQ+ community before her.
Sure, she could give us canned answers that neither inspire nor offend.
You know the ones: “We’re just taking this tournament one game at a time.” Or “We can’t overlook (insert today’s opponent).” Or “I’m just looking to give 100 percent to my team.”
Ali was the first to speak his mind concerning injustice and social issues, refusing induction into the U.S. Army. Tommie Smith and John Carlos weren’t far behind with their black-gloved salute at the Mexico City Olympics.
NBA player Mahmoud Abdul-Rauf refused to stand for the anthem in 1996 as he believed the United States was an unjust tyranny and therefore in conflict with his Islamic beliefs.
And then Colin Kaepernick began kneeling in 2016 during the Star Spangled Banner to highlight his belief that black people and people of color were still being oppressed in America.
All were vilified speaking out. All showed courage to stand for their beliefs, no matter the consequence.
The polarization of the country today makes it near impossible to have a conversation about Rapinoe’s performance. Yes, she said what she said and like the political landscape heading into the 2020 election, you’re either for her or against her. There seems to be no middle ground.
And that might be our problem as a country going forward.
Sports are a distraction from reality. They provide brief respites of joy and heartache as the wins and losses roll in.
And maybe that’s how we ought to approach Rapinoe’s masterful performance during the World Cup. Enjoy the win, marvel at the skill and dedication, and celebrate the victory.
And then tomorrow, if you still feel the need, we can begin arguing again about who’s correct, who’s wrong, who’s left, who’s right.
But for now? U…S…A!!!
Aaron Williams is a freelance writer and editor living in Redding who co-founded www.shastacountysports.com. He loves telling stories and has a passion for high school sports.