How USWNT’s Megan Rapinoe will face ‘special’ England game amid ‘horrifying’ abuse report

Megan Rapinoe and the United States Women’s National Team emerged from a tunnel at Wembley Stadium on Thursday to bathe in glorious sunshine. They gazed up at the cavernous “home of football” which will fill with 90,000 people and vibrancy on Friday. They stepped out onto pristine grounds that will stage “something really special,” Rapinoe said, a highlight of her and their career.

And yet, as Rapinoe and captain Becky Sauerbrunn said this week, they are “angry and exhausted”.

They came to London to meet England, European champions, the groundbreaking team that captivated their nation this summer with an unprecedented explosion of pride and joy. They came to play a game of football presented as a beacon of progress and growth. But then, while in transit, US Soccer released the Yates Reportthe conclusions of a year-long investigation that detailed widespread abuse and ‘failure’ in women’s football.

The report was “re-triggered or re-traumatized” for players, some of whom played for the coaches and teams implicated in the report, and some of whom “have likely been abused in some form or another”, said Rapinoe. The details, though many were already known, were nevertheless “horrifying” and “devastating”, she said. An emotional Sauerbrunn said on Tuesday that she and her teammates were “heartbroken and frustrated” and, three days before a confrontation that sold Wembley in less than 24 hoursthey were “not doing well”.

The players trained but also coped, talking in groups but also digesting in silence, towards the end of a year in which they also won a fierce and protracted battle for equal pay and treatment. A surprised British journalist asked Rapinoe on Thursday: “How are you not just emotionally drained, as a group of players?”

“We are,” Rapinoe replied.

But then she made a point that only she and other female athletes can really, really, intimately understand.

“I mean, as sick as it sounds, I feel like we’re used to having to take on a lot more than game plan and tactics,” she said. They’ve been doing it for decades, and on Friday, wear teal armbands to “stand in solidarity with survivors of sexual violence”, they will start again.

Megan Rapinoe and the USWNT will play in a match against England on Friday in front of 90,000 fans. This was overshadowed by the Yates report. (Photo by Ira L. Black – Corbis/Getty Images)

“A momentous occasion… ruined by this report”

The Yates report has been imminent since systemic and widespread sexual, verbal and emotional abuse erupted to the forefront of the National Women’s Soccer League last fall. He appeared taller when American football announced September 12 that the investigation was coming to an end. The federation, which commissioned the investigation, said it would “publish the full report in early October”. It became clear that the release date could coincide with the preparations for this monumental game.

In light of this realization and the emotions the report could trigger, American football officials have been having conversations, including with players, about the timing of it, two sources familiar with the news tell Yahoo Sports. talks. U.S. Soccer President Cindy Parlow Cone even called the players directly, a source said.

There was a feeling that some players or other stakeholders might prefer to confront the results after this international window, or after the NWSL season. But US Soccer and the players have agreed the report should be released as soon as it is ready, the sources said. Their conclusion was that the information it contained was too important to sit on. Monday — after the NWSL regular season ended, but as far away from Friday’s game as possible — turned out to be the “least bad time,” a source said.

But it was still bad. Friday was meant to be a “momentous occasion,” defender Alana Cook said. “And it’s tainted by this report, and it’s tainted by the atrocities that have been condoned and tolerated and allowed to continue in the NWSL for the past 10 years.”

A handful of players spoke privately with Sally Yates, the former federal prosecutor leading the investigation, “before the report became official,” Sauerbrunn said. Two sources said that call took place on Monday morning. But the release, Monday at 1 p.m. ET, 6 p.m. British Standard Time, still left a few shaken.

It wasn’t, Rapinoe said, “just something you recognize and move on.” Head coach Vlatko Andonovski has understood this. “Some players, some staff members need someone to talk to,” Andonovski said on Tuesday. “Some people need time, some need space, some need to process everything and some need distraction.” He clarified to the players that if they “don’t want to participate in a meeting, or if they do not want to participate in a practice, or even if they do not want to play the game, it is up to them”. .

“Vlatko was amazing,” Rapinoe said on Thursday.

The players also leaned on each other. They’ve been “unified,” Rapinoe said, and it’s actually been “very powerful for all of us to be together.” The veterans spoke eloquently and forcefully and took on the burden of public speaking so their younger teammates wouldn’t have to bear so much.

Because, Rapinoe said, “probably as a young player you’re like, ‘What’s going on? How can I handle this? “”

Generations of USWNTers, however, have learned how to do it. They won World Cups and Olympic gold medals while fighting for better working conditions and pay – and, in Rapinoe’s case, while arguing with the president and receiving unfathomable amounts of hatred of conservative america. She learned from her national team predecessors and her experience how to fight while playing and playing while fighting, and how to stay mentally healthy along the way.

“We had to put up with this team a lot,” Rapinoe said Thursday during a 22-minute press conference in which only one question was mostly about football.

Then she went out on this immaculate ground to train.

The love of the game conquers all

Rose Lavelle and Kristie Mewis also walked through double doors and stepped onto the Wembley stage on Thursday, and “Oh my God,” Lavelle said“the weather’s nice.”

The players took advantage of the October sun and weather of 65 degrees, and posed for a team photo with smiles on their faces.

Countless fans and journalists have wondered how they reconcile what Rapinoe called the “ridiculous” juxtaposition of this “special moment” and the exposition of abuse; and how they cope with the mental and emotional strain of both. Their answer, in short, was that they fall back on their love of the game.

“It’s getting that joy back with my teammates, and not allowing anyone to take that away from me like it’s been taken away from so many people,” Sauerbrunn said on Tuesday.

“Unfortunately, a lot of us have been navigating this stuff for a very long time,” she added. “And you find a way to deal with that, and maybe not compartmentalize, but you use training like this time to just think about training, training, and being with your teammates, and those little moments that give you joy.”

“This week,” Rapinoe admitted, “is a little harder to compartmentalize” than usual. But the reward at the end will be unlike anything any of them have ever experienced before. It will be the biggest crowd they have ever played in front of. And they, along with all those who came before them and all those who endured unprofessional environments and underinvestment to make women’s football what it is today, deserved it.

“I feel like there’s a reason we’re at Wembley right now,” Rapinoe said. “There’s a reason 90,000 people come. There’s a reason these two teams in particular went over the pitch and did something really special.

“We shouldn’t have to do this,” she said of the emotional charge. “We shouldn’t have to take on everything we have. But I think we’ve done it in a pretty incredible way and continued to develop the sport, and we should be really proud of that.”

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