by SARAH BOGAARDS
A big first happened for Iowa on Tuesday. The first gold medal Olympian, two-time World Cup Champion, gay, female soccer player and activist was in Des Moines.
Almost four months after Drake tweeted the announcement via Griff in a pink wig, U.S. women’s national soccer team co-captain Megan Rapinoe spoke before more than 4,500 people at the 41st Bucksbaum lecture.
“I always heard it was lit in Iowa, but I didn’t know it was like this,” Rapinoe said as she was welcomed to the stage.
Students, faculty and members of the public awaited Rapinoe in a blue-tinged Knapp Center. She was introduced to the crowd with a striking question from Olivia Bruce, a junior news major and member of the Drake women’s soccer team.
“What if we were given the platform that she has, would we use it?” Bruce said. “Or would we be too scared about what the world had to say?”
Simpson College sophomore and women’s soccer player Tatum Tremain attended the event with several teammates and wore a U.S. Women’s National Team shirt. She said Rapinoe’s visit mattered because “not often do players like this come to Iowa.”
Julie Sundee and Kristina Nurre, both of Ankeny, played soccer together in school and now they both have children who play. They followed the recent World Cup closely and were excited to have Rapinoe in Des Moines.
“I’m looking forward to hearing about all the topics she’s so passionate about,” Sundee said. “It’s not just soccer, and that’s great.”
The Q&A interview moderated by Drake alumna Jill Farmer evoked insight and wit, whether on topics of inequities in soccer and society or tackling family discussions at Thanksgiving. For Rapinoe, she said she teams up with family members at Thanksgiving.
“We’re like, ‘You guys ready? Ready? Let’s go,’” she joked.
In seriousness, Rapinoe said there should be “a base level of respect for people’s beliefs” and proposed cooperation and conversation in response to conflict and division in society.
“We just want to make [the country] better,” Rapinoe said. “So how are we going to have those conversations and sort of use those conversations as practice to then go back into the world and ultimately try to make it a better place.”
Farmer said a main takeaway was that “We can all [talk], but we really have to make space for listening and make space for doing something about it and not just talking about it.”
Early in the interview Rapinoe described herself as a “pretty open book,” which prefaced the candid conversation to come. She said having a platform and the accompanying attention has meant recognizing that her words “have ramifications to my family, to my friends and to the world at large.”
She also described relaxing, uneventful weekends in Seattle with her partner, Sue, and her excitement for their upcoming vacation.
“It is easy for all of us to get caught up in her fame and her position on the field, but it was really cool just to see the authentic version of who Megan really is,” Bruce said following the interview.
In her final message of the night, Rapinoe said, “Make it cool to care.” She encouraged each person to hold themselves accountable for creating change however they can.
“You can just help someone who is in your life. And that’s very meaningful,” she said. “Just imagine if everyone took that sort of responsibility to just do a little bit more.”
Megan McDowell contributed to the reporting of this article