Sometime during the victory celebration along the "Canyon of Heroes" in New York City on Wednesday, U.S. soccer star Megan Rapinoe was handed a Daily News cover that depicts the Statue of Liberty cleverly holding the Women's World Cup championship trophy instead of a torch.
That wasn't what made Rapinoe hold the newspaper with a smirking frown on her face, a sort of #SMH (shake my head) expression.
It was the bold headline in big block letters:
UNITED WE STAND
"Really?" Rapinoe's look seemed to be saying. "Really!?"
Later that night - as if on cue - one or more persons walking around full of hate vandalized six Rapinoe posters at the subway station near Sixth Avenue and 42nd Street in Manhattan. Police are investigating it as a possible hate crime. The posters read, "Dream With Us." Either that message, or perhaps the fact Rapinoe is gay, led the vandals to scrawl "shemale" and "screw that (bleep)" over her face.
United we stand?
Imagine being a member of the LGBTQ community, in the United States of America in 2019, and walk around every day knowing - knowing - people are passing you by on the street who do not believe you have the right to exist, or to love whom you wish.
The United States winning the World Cup was in some ways a unifying force. It was inspiring to see millions around the country filling public parks for massive watch parties, fans clad in red, white and blue, cheering on the American side, roaring as one for U.S. goals. It was great to see another multitude in downtown New York for Wednesday's ticker tape parade. It will be great to see stadiums filled on a five-city Victory Tour beginning Aug. 3 in Los Angeles.
But there has been an element to this, a dark side, that has served to remind us we are in many ways the Divided States of America.
It emanates from the fact the best woman's soccer player in the world, winner of the World Cup's Golden Ball for most goals and Golden Boot for best player, is proudly gay, loudly anti-Trump and an outspoken advocate for equal pay and equal rights.
She has been polarizing. The whole team has, really, at least to many conservative Americans who are some combination of pro-Trump or anti-gay rights. If you don't like Colin Kaepernick, chances are you don't like Megan Rapinoe - even as she is leading your country to its biggest victory in the one true global sport, a reason for jingoist approval if ever there was one.
If your attitude about Rapinoe is some form of "Shut up and play," of wishing she'd score goals and be quiet about her activism, you are precisely the reason she's loud.
As team star Alex Morgan said Wednesday night in accepting the ESPY award for best female athlete: "Women continue to show that we are more than just athletes."
I applaud this USWNT not only for its excellence, but for its sisterhood, the fun it exudes, and also that this group will not demure, sit down, be quiet, or fit anybody's 1950s version of how females should behave.
Rapinoe, on Wednesday, to the New York crowd: "This group is just so bad-ass! We got pink hair and purple hair. We have tattoos and dreadlocks. We got white girls and black girls and everything in between. Straight girls and gay girls. Hey!"
If you don't like that - the attitude of it or the reality of it - check the mirror and maybe try to figure out why.
"We have to be better. Love more and hate less," Rapinoe closed her remarks simply, speaking to all of us.
We have to get to where a "United We Stand" headline doesn't read like sad irony, but like something closer to the truth.
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