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Megan Rapinoe: A Progressive Icon From California’s Trump Country

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Megan Rapinoe celebrates following Team USA's victory in the 2019 FIFA Women's World Cup Final match between the U.S. and the Netherlands on July 7, 2019, in Lyon, France.  (Maja Hitij/Getty Images)

The Northern California city of Redding had a lot to celebrate after hometown hero Megan Rapinoe helped lead the U.S. women's national soccer team to its second consecutive world championship and earned awards as the tournament's top scorer and top player.

A large crowd gathered at the California Soccer Park, where several screens were set up for fans who wanted to watch the game. They cheered when Rapinoe netted the first goal in the 61st minute off a penalty, and honored her with applause when she was taken out of the game just a few minutes before it was over.

Draped in a large American flag, David Schlegel was seated a few rows away from a Rapinoe-signed soccer jersey being raffled off at the viewing party. He was there with his wife and three daughters.

“It’s so cool that Megan comes from Redding,” said Schlegel, of Redding. “It’s nice to have good role models.”

Ashley and David Schlegel with their three daughters at the California Soccer Park in Redding on Sunday after hometown hero Megan Rapinoe helped lead the U.S. Women’s National Soccer Team to victory at the Women's World Cup.
Ashley and David Schlegel with their three daughters at the California Soccer Park in Redding on Sunday after hometown hero Megan Rapinoe helped lead the U.S. women’s national soccer team to victory at the Women's World Cup. (Lily Jamali/KQED)

The World Cup has helped catapult Rapinoe, who has made the fight for equal pay for female athletes a personal cause and gotten into a Twitter spat with President Trump, to cultural icon status.

At the World Cup's final whistle, fans, many dressed in red, white and blue, chanted "Equal Pay!" — a reminder that players sued the U.S. Soccer Federation in March claiming gender discrimination. The sides have agreed to mediate the lawsuit.

"She has every right to ask for a more level playing field," Schlegel said.

Rapinoe, 34, also got into a highly publicized spat with Trump after saying in June that she would not visit the White House if the team won.

Rapinoe’s politics — she also has kneeled during the national anthem,  days after former San Francisco 49er Colin Kaepernick did — have made her a complicated figure here in Shasta County, one of the few pockets of California firmly in Trump country.

“She has a responsibility representing the U.S.,” said a fan named Ken, who wanted to be identified only by his first name. “There should be some respect for the position (U.S. president), so I’m somewhat concerned along those lines.”

But he acknowledged that it’s complicated: “I think she’s doing a good job towing the line.”

Always outspoken, Rapinoe also called out FIFA on the eve of the championship, suggesting soccer's governing body was not doing enough to grow the women's game, pointing to unequal prize money and the scheduling of the final on the same day as the championships of the CONCACAF Gold Cup in Chicago and the Copa America final in Brazil.

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Ashley Schlegel, David's wife, said they brought their daughters, ages 7, 4 and 2, so they can see that anything's possible — as shown by Rapinoe.  She doesn't mind the soccer star's activism.

“Whether you agree with what she says politically or not, if you believe there are injustices, every time is the right time to stand up for that,” Ashley Schlegel said.

In his initial Twitter reply to Rapinoe, Trump did invite the team to the White House — win or lose — saying: "Megan should WIN first before she TALKS! Finish the job!" But he took a different tone on Sunday, congratulating the team on Sunday after their win.

The Associated Press contributed to this report.


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