USA World Cup star Megan Rapinoe won the prestigious Ballon d'Or in Paris on Monday night, an honour recognising her as the greatest women's footballer on the planet. And she used her platform in the best possible way.
Having accepted her award, the winger gave an interview to France Football magazine in which she was asked whether she felt the trophy was for her performances or her politics off the pitch.
This Ballon d'Or rewards both. On the one hand, I am a very good footballer. On the other hand, my action off the field attracts support because people understand that I'm trying to find solutions to the problems of society.
I'm lucky to have some talent to lead. I don't fear the consequences, so I say what to say. I'm exhausted from travelling for conferences and meetings but, if things need to improve in our world, so be it on the front line.
More surprisingly (and entirely justifiably), she called out some of the greats of the men's game for not doing more to fight for equal rights, singling out the winner of the men's Ballon d'Or, Leo Messi, as well as Cristiano Ronaldo and Zlatan Ibrahimovic for failing to use their considerable personal influence as a force for good.
I want to shout: 'Cristiano, Leo, Zlatan - help me!' These big stars don't engage in anything when there are so many problems in football! Are they afraid of losing everything? They might believe that but it's not true... Who would banish Messi or Ronaldo from the football world for speaking out against racism or sexism?
While these stars are known around the world, they rarely use their profiles for campaigning purposes like demanding equal pay in the women's game or stamping out racism on the terraces, a particular problem in Italy and Eastern Europe.
Brescia striker Mario Balotelli was recently forced to walk off the pitch in protest at racist abuse from rival fans in Verona, for instance.
Ronaldo, it should be said, did attempt to draw attention to raging fires in the Amazon rainforest earlier this summer (even if he did inadvertently use a fake image of the blaze to illustrate his point).
Rapinoe's argument is well made though and she remains as well known for her off-field activism as she is as a goal threat, shooting to international stardom this summer when she upset Donald Trump by declaring she would not be "going to the f***ing White House" if her side won the tournament.
The president responded angrily on Twitter, saying she "should WIN first before she talks!" and "Finish the job!"
She did – named player of the match in the final and scoring as the USA beat the Netherlands 2-0.
The champions never did visit 1600 Pennsylvania Avenue, preferring to take the trophy on an open top bus tour through the streets of New York City instead, with Rapinoe swigging champagne, shouting "I deserve this" and leading the celebrations before delighted crowds of onlookers.
Player or activist? "This #BallonDor rewards both. On the one hand, I'm a very good footballer. On the other hand,… https://t.co/UzuoVtMag1— Asif Burhan (@Asif Burhan) 1575452106
She used her time at the forefront of the media spotlight to further hold the president to account, using an interview with Anderson Cooper on CNN in July to speak directly to camera and tell Trump:
Your message is excluding people. You're excluding me, you're excluding people that look like me, you're excluding people of colour, you're excluding Americans that maybe support you.
You're harking back to an era that was not great for everyone - it might have been great for a few people, and maybe America is great for a few people right now, but it's not great for enough Americans in this world.
You have an incredible responsibility as the chief of this country to take care of every single person, and you need to do better for everyone.
The attacker, who has described herself as a "walking protest", has also fought for LGBTQ+ rights and led a lawsuit filed by 28 of her international teammates demanding equal pay to the men's team, a fight still ongoing.
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