There may not have been a more divisive and unapologetic athlete in 2019 than Megan Rapinoe.
The United States Women’s National Team soccer player gained international stardom for her performances throughout the 2019 FIFA Women’s World Cup, during which she won the Golden Boot and struck an iconic pose after scoring a goal against France that even an Alabama football player mimicked.
Rapinoe was the poster-child of the U.S. women’s soccer team’s World Cup victory, and she did it while under fire from the leader of the free world: President Donald Trump. After saying she wasn’t “going to the f****** White House” if the team won the tournament (they did), Trump fired back on Twitter and thus rallied half the country to root against the country’s pink-haired gay hero.
For her achievements this year, Rapinoe was named Sports Illustrated‘s Sportsperson of the Year on Monday. She became just the fourth woman to win the publication’s award unaccompanied in its 66-year history, joining Serena Williams (2015), Mary Decker (1983) and Chris Evert (1976).
Rapinoe, an Olympic superstar in her own right, joins the likes of past winners LeBron James, Michael Phelps, Tiger Woods, Lance Armstrong and Michael Jordan.
Never afraid to speak up for what she believes in, Rapinoe lobbied for the U.S. Women’s National Team to earn equal pay and was part of the team’s lawsuit against the U.S. Soccer Federation. And shortly after winning the Ballon d’Or award (Golden Ball) for soccer’s top woman in the world by France Football, she called out athletes like Cristiano Ronaldo, Lionel Messi and Zlatan Ibrahimovic for not using their platforms to speak out against racism and sexism.
Rapinoe sparked controversy when she joined former NFL quarterback Colin Kaepernick’s campaign to protest police brutality and racial injustice by kneeling during the national anthem while playing for her country in 2016. Years later, she sparked more controversy for calling out Trump by saying his message excluded LGBT members and people of color.
Joined by teammates of the USWNT like co-captains Carli Lloyd and Alex Morgan, Rapinoe delivered an impassioned speech at the team’s ticker-tape parade in New York City following the World Cup victory.
“This is my charge to everyone. We have to be better,” she told fans at the celebration. “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.”
Rapinoe is more than just a midfielder or the best player or the top scorer for her team. The 34-year-old is also more than a soccer star and World Cup champion for the U.S. women’s team.
And now, she’s Sports Illustrated‘s 2019 Sportsperson of the Year.