Superstar athletes Megan Rapinoe and Sue Bird have given their lives to soccer and basketball, respectively. At GQ, Emma Carmichael reports that now, as their sports careers reach their conclusion, the couple is using their considerable influence and profile to further equality — for women’s rights (in and out of sports), the Black Lives Matter movement, and for other members of the LGBTQI community.
There is no precedent for the pastel-haired international soccer star who courted the ponytailed all-American point guard and went on to live happily ever after. For now, the “cross-sport lesbian power couple” template begins and ends with Megan Rapinoe and Sue Bird. And they are not just stars in their sports—they have set the standards to which future athletes will be held. Between them they have more championships and gold medals than most couples have steak knives: At 35, Rapinoe is one of the most decorated American soccer players of all time, with two World Cup titles and an Olympic gold medal to her name. Bird, 40, is considered one of the greatest basketball players of all time, having won multiple championships at every stage of her career—from her two championships during her fabled UConn days to her quartet of rings with the Seattle Storm and four Olympic golds with the national team.
They have set the agenda off the field too: Both have been active in the Black Lives Matter and Say Her Name movements as well as the ongoing fights for equal pay and treatment that have revolutionized their sports. In January, after months of campaigning that started at the WNBA’s pandemic site in Florida, Bird celebrated Rev. Raphael Warnock’s victory over Atlanta Dream co-owner Kelly Loeffler in one of Georgia’s crucial runoff Senate races. They are pushing things forward, as none other than Billie Jean King tells me. “We were always afraid of the unknown,” she says. King lost all of her sponsorships in 24 hours when she was involuntarily outed in 1981. Things are different now. “This is why having Megan and Sue out in front like this, being comfortable in their own skin, is so huge. It allows other people to be more comfortable.”
Every person I interviewed for this story is an LGBTQ+ professional (or formerly pro) woman athlete. All seemed to over-explain their work—Bird taking pains to describe why she and her fellow WNBA stars had to play in Russia, Harris and Krieger making sure I understood they’d spent many years playing with Rapinoe, even King laying out how she and the Original 9 of women’s tennis fought for better prize money in the ’70s. The tendency probably comes along with being a conscientious, media-trained athlete and public-facing woman, but I also wondered if the instinct was learned: from having to make the case for yourself constantly, from being forced to convince the skeptical that what you do has merit.