MELISSA BLOCK, HOST:
The U.S. Women's National Soccer Team is home from the Olympics with gold medals. They got redemption by winning the final over Japan, after losing to Japan in last year's World Cup. But the women's team comes home to an uncertain future. The U.S. Women's Professional Soccer League folded earlier this year, which means there's no top-level league where they can play.
To talk about the future of women's soccer and more, I'm joined by one of the most exciting players to watch, midfielder Megan Rapinoe who had three goals and four assists during the 2012 Olympics. She is so popular that her short, bleached blond hair has its own Twitter feed.
Megan Rapinoe, welcome to the program.
BLOCK: Thank you for having me on.
I want to hear your thoughts during the medal ceremony, after what turned into a real nail-biter of a game against Japan in the final. What were you thinking?
I mean, just is this real? I kept saying we did it, we did it, we did it. But it doesn't - it's like you know that you did it and you know that this is the culmination of all your hopes and dreams as a child. But it's very surreal to be stepping up on that podium and have that gold medal, and to see your flag rise. And it's really incredible.
Have you thought about that when you were a kid playing soccer growing up?
Oh yeah, totally. Especially the Olympics, I'm totally obsessed with the Olympics. You know, every fourth summer rooted in front of the TV watching every back-story, and then I'm still that way. So all my life it was to be in that moment, and you just think I just can't believe this is real.
Well, you're home now in the national team does have some victory tour, international matches are lined up. But, as we said, there is no U.S. women's professional league. What are you going to do? Are you going to play overseas, play in a semi-pro league here?
I'm playing it by ear for now. We'll be very busy throughout the fall, which is a good thing. And I mean, I think the popularity of women's soccer is at a place it's never been before; so many viewers, so many fans, so much interest. And hopefully that can motivate one of the things that really needs to make it happen, which is the green. We need money. We need that funding.
You know, until then, we might have to go overseas and I'm not opposed to that. But I think it's necessary that we have a league here.
There is a real disconnect there, isn't there, with the popularity that you talked about and the level of support. Are you frustrated that the women don't get support from major league soccer? I mean, one idea has been to partner women seems with the men's teams and have all the financial benefits that would come from that. But that hasn't happened and there doesn't seem to be a wave of support in that direction.
Mm-hmm, I mean it's interesting. I know that it's taken MLS a long time to get to where they are. And they lost a lot of money for a lot of years, and maybe are still losing a little now. And I can understand not wanting to take on a team where you're pretty much guaranteed to lose a bit of money every year.
MEGAN RAPINOE: But I think, with our growing popularity now, put us in any stadium and we'll try to fill it and, usually, we do a pretty good job of that.
BLOCK: How damaging is it to the sport, do you think, and to the development of the game to not have a women's professional league?
RAPINOE: I think it's hard and, you know, last year, we had the World Cup and, this year, we had the Olympics and we're in the media and our faces are out there. But, you know, these next two or three years, it goes dark a little bit and I think that's the hardest thing. I think we need to keep our faces out there and to keep our game out there and keep it growing. We have such a special thing going right now and I hope we can capitalize on that.
BLOCK: Megan Rapinoe, I want to ask you about your own unique role within women's sports. You came out as gay shortly before the Olympic games. Couldn't think of another women's soccer player who's done that. Why was it important for you to come out?
RAPINOE: I think it's just being authentic and being proud of who I am. I think Anderson Cooper said that just to stand up and to be counted - I don't think you - you know, for me, I don't want to make a big fuss about it or talk about it all the time, but it just felt good, I guess. It just felt like it was the right time and not that I ever, you know, hid anything or lied about anything, but now that it's out, we can start talking about it and start breaking down these barriers that are keeping, really, homosexuals from having full rights.
BLOCK: Why do you think there are so few high profile athletes, male or female, who have come out publicly? What's the stigma there?
RAPINOE: I think, on the men's side, it's different than the women's side. On the men's side, there's still that stigma of homophobia in the locker rooms and just in general in men's sports. And I think it might be a little bit overrated. I mean, I think people now - you know, a lot of athletes have come out and said, I would definitely accept, you know, a gay male athlete in the locker room and on my team.
It's hard, though, I can imagine, for a male. Not only do they have to hide it from the media, but I mean, really, they have to kind of hide it from everybody on their team. And it is really, I think, for male athletes, a huge coming out.
BLOCK: Well, after all of the Olympic hype and buildup and all the attention, is it a letdown now? I mean, what do you do emotionally to sort of deal with that (unintelligible)?
RAPINOE: (Unintelligible) post-Olympic depression?
RAPINOE: It is very strange. Like, you - you know, work for this and then it's over and you're kind of like, OK, well, what now? So it's kind of nice that we have all these games coming up. Kind of get back in the team and really kind of keep this wave going.
BLOCK: And your gold medal - are you wearing it 24/7?
BLOCK: Pretty much?
RAPINOE: Yeah. I'm using it as currency, actually. If ever I need anything, I just pull it out.
BLOCK: And, as I saw on your Twitter feed, putting it around the neck of your grandfather.
RAPINOE: Oh, Grandpa. Granda Jack. He's so cute. He's watched all the games. He's like, I never cried so much in my life. He's up yelling at the TV and he was proud - proud as punch to put that medal on. I've never seen him smile so big.
BLOCK: Well, Megan Rapinoe, it's great to talk to you. Congratulations and welcome home.
RAPINOE: Thank you. Thank you very much for having me.
BLOCK: That's U.S. Women's Soccer player and Olympic gold medallist, Megan Rapinoe. Transcript provided by NPR, Copyright NPR.