The gown is by Valentino, the shoes by Maison Margiela. But the pink hair and expression are pure Megan Rapinoe. “What about a smirk?” Sports Illustrated says she asked as she brandished a sledgehammer while posing for a photo. “It’s kind of like a little [expletive] you. I’m coming.”

Pure Rapinoe, the woman who reminded everyone of her stellar soccer prowess and headstrong determination as the U.S. women’s national soccer team won the World Cup – her second – and repeatedly made headlines for her stance against President Trump and gender biases. For all of that – and more – Rapinoe was SI’s choice for Sportsperson of the Year, joining Chris Evert, Mary Decker and Serena Williams as the only women in the 66-year history of the award to win it by themselves.

United States women’s soccer team member Megan Rapinoe holds the Women’s World Cup trophy after arriving at Newark Liberty International Airport, Monday, July 8, 2019. AP Photo/Kathy Willens

Seven other women, like the U.S. women’s soccer team in 1999, have shared the award, but Rapinoe was chosen alone, SI’s Jenny Ventras writes, “not because of her newfound fame but because of how she’s handled it. She owned the biggest moment of her life and silenced all the doubts.”

Did she ever. Her adamant stance, punctuated with an expletive, about not visiting the White House put her at odds with President Donald Trump and landed her smack in the middle of discussions on social and political issues on places like “Meet the Press” and “Pod Save America.” All of that was a natural outgrowth of her early support for Colin Kaepernick when he began kneeling for the national anthem. She knelt as well, but now stands, although she refuses to sing and prefers, Vrentras writes, to sometimes think about people of color who have lost their lives, people like Trayvon Martin, Michael Brown and Tamir Rice.

This year, she also became a vocal leader as the women’s national team sued the U.S. Soccer Federation for equal pay. Former first lady Michelle Obama sought to have her join a voter-participation initiative. It seems that everywhere she turned up, a headline followed. But SI uncovered a few other nuggets. For instance, the White House reached out privately to the women’s national team about a visit and Rapinoe learned of it as the team flew home from France. Carlos Cordeiro, the president of the USSF, suggested visiting the White House and Capitol Hill, but Rapinoe and another player repeated that they did not want to meet with Trump.

In the months since the U.S. won the World Cup, she has received awards and responded in her own distinct way, often with language as colorful as her hair. She thanked Kaepernick when she received an award at a Glamour event “because he knew, it really wasn’t about playing it safe. It was about doing what is necessary and backing down to exactly nobody.” Winner of the second-ever Ballon d’Or Féminin award, she challenged players like Cristiano Ronaldo, Lionel Messi and Zlatan Ibrahimovic to join her fight against racism and sexism in their sport. When she received FIFA’s award as the top player, she mentioned Raheem Sterling and Kalidou Koulibaly, two of many players who have endured racist chants while playing, and “Blue Girl,” the Iran woman who disguised herself as a man to go to a soccer game and set herself on fire to avoid charges for violating a ban against women in stadiums. She also mentioned Collin Martin, the MLS player who is the only openly gay male in America’s big five professional sports.

Look for more of that in 2020 and beyond.

“I don’t understand the [idea] that it’s un-American to criticize your country,” Rapinoe said. “That’s what an open democracy is about – civil discourse and being able to protest. Clearly, we are not perfect. Until we address the problems we have, it is not going to be better.”

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