Skip to main content
U.S. soccer star Megan Rapinoe celebrates at the 2019 Women's World Cup

Soccer Star Megan Rapinoe On Equal Pay, And What The U.S. Flag Means To Her

Soccer star Megan Rapinoe talks about playing soccer, and her advocacy for LGBTQ rights, equal pay, and Black Lives Matter. She has a new memoir.


Fresh Air with Terry Gross, November 9, 2020: Interview with Megan Rapinoe; Obituary for Alex Trebek.



This is FRESH AIR. I'm Terry Gross. My guest, Megan Rapinoe, is an icon as a champion soccer player and as an activist. Last year, after the U.S. national women's soccer team won their fourth World Cup, she was awarded the Golden Boot for top scorer and the Golden Ball for the tournament's best player. She's been co-captain of the team since 2018. Rapinoe also helped her team win a gold medal at the 2012 Olympics. For a while, she was practically the only openly gay player on the U.S. women's national team, which put her in the spotlight as an LGBTQ activist.

She's fought for equal pay in women's soccer and was part of a lawsuit against the U.S. Soccer Federation. This past spring, a federal judge dismissed the team's claim, but the team plans to file an appeal. In 2016, a week after Colin Kaepernick took a knee during the national anthem, Rapinoe took a knee in support and faced the consequences. Now she's written a new memoir called "One Life." She recently announced her engagement to Sue Bird, a champion player in the WNBA.

Megan Rapinoe, welcome to FRESH AIR, and congratulations on your engagement. How much have things changed since you first came out, like, nearly 10 years ago?

MEGAN RAPINOE: Yeah, that's an interesting question. Thank you for the congratulations, of course. I think in so many ways, you know, we're further along and we're in a better place. And in so many ways, we're sort of exactly where we were. Obviously, this administration is - this current administration is posing a threat to that in their sort of legislation and values and the direction they want to go. It's always a balance for me. I find that while it feels like we're so much further, you know, the fact that, you know, LGBTQ people have only been allowed to marry in this country for five years, that sort of stands in stark opposition to it. So on the one hand, I feel like we're going in the right direction. And on the other hand, I think we have a lot of work left to do.

GROSS: Because of COVID, the Olympics have been postponed. The World Cup has been canceled. How disappointing is that for you? Like, what does that mean in terms of your career?

RAPINOE: Well, it really threw a pretty big variable in there, especially being an athlete not really on the younger side of things. And so I think by the time the Olympics were actually postponed or the announcement was made, we had sort of long understood that nothing was going to be happening, certainly not this summer.

But in the same sense, you know, it's sort of through our entire life up in the air like confetti. It was like, we don't - you know, normally, for athletes especially, you - you're on a schedule pretty much year-round. Even when it's your off time, that's scheduled off time. And everything is pretty, you know, regulated. You know where you're traveling. You know where you're going to be. You know the different phases of training you're going to be in. You kind of have things, you know, pretty much markered in for the entire year.

And so obviously, with a pandemic like this, much like everybody in the country, it was a sort of standstill. And you can't really plan anything. In a lot of ways, the disappointment of not being able to play sports was so secondary compared to, you know, the devastation that was happening across the country and so many people being affected so negatively. I think in a big way we were just, you know, in the collective anxiety of the country at the time.

And now that things have - you know, I guess we understand it's not that things have gotten better, certainly not by any measure, but I think we understand it a little bit better. I mean, obviously, Sue played in the WNBA bubble this summer. And I think, you know, my league did a good job this summer. And with the national team, we're still kind of waiting and seeing. But I think it's like, there's some things you can control and some things you can't. And this obviously was not one that we could control. And we just tried to, you know, to lean into that and do as much as we could with what we could.

GROSS: You've helped turn women's soccer into a very popular sport in the U.S. and you've helped pave the way for more equity in women's sports. Give us a sense of some of the disparities between how men and women have been paid in soccer and how they've been treated.

RAPINOE: The amount of money that we could possibly earn in our contract compared to the amount of money that the men could possibly earn in the contract is very different. I think a lot of - a lot is made about the guaranteed money in our contract and the different compensation structures that we have. But when you look at the possibility of money for each team, ours is vastly, vastly lower than the men.

GROSS: Yeah. And you had - you were on, like, a championship women's team and the men's team was a losing team, and they were getting paid so much more than you were.

RAPINOE: Yeah, yeah. And I think that was something that, you know, in the latest court ruling, we felt that the court really didn't fully appreciate. We'll just say, you know, for round numbers' sake, if we captured 90% of our, you know, the total compensation available in our contract and, you know, the men only captured 50% of it, we earned about the same dollar for dollar amount. Meanwhile, we've won, you know, two World Cups. We've won nearly every friendly that we've played in. We've won all the tournaments. We've been very successful, both, you know, commercially marketing-wise, sponsorships and branding and all of that, and obviously been very successful on the field.

And so it's kind of the, you know, work twice as hard or win twice as much or be twice as successful. And to get paid, you know, about the same dollar for dollar amount, that's sort of at the heart of pay inequity and gender discrimination we feel.

GROSS: I think people have been pretty dismissive of women's sports, and it's always taken a secondary place. But I think, you know, like women like you and women like Sue Bird are really bringing women into sports in a way that they can actually, like, identify with the players and see themselves on the field in the way that they can't quite with men's sports. And I wonder, like, what that means to you to be a part of that.

RAPINOE: I mean, I think we are in a big way much more relatable. I think with women, because our sports are smaller and we're not seen as these celebrities quite yet, I think the accessibility has been so much more readily available to fans, you know, to admirers or even to brands. I think that they understand that there's a level of, I guess, intimacy that you can get to with a female athlete that maybe you're not going to get to with a male athlete, which I think has helped us, to be honest. I think it's helping to grow our fan base and helping to make us more relatable. But I think the balance has to be there as well. I don't think, you know, having us have everybody think that they can just come up to us all the time and, like, you know, we're the best friends and everything is necessarily the way either. But I think they see in us a collective struggle to be seen and to be valued and to be appreciated fairly. I think they see us as not only fighting for ourselves for a better place or a more equitable place in the world but really for everyone. And so that sort of forces women into a position where we have to be activists, where we have to be role models because we are actually fighting for a better world, yes, for ourselves but, in turn, I think for everybody else as well.

GROSS: Well, let me reintroduce you here. If you're just joining us, my guest is Megan Rapinoe. She's a soccer star, a soccer champion and activist and now the author of a new memoir called "One Life." We'll be right back. This is FRESH AIR.


GROSS: This is FRESH AIR. And if you're just joining us, my guest is soccer champion Megan Rapinoe. She has a new memoir called "One Life."

So, you know, we've been talking about women's soccer and some of the inequities in, like, men's and women's sports. When you started playing soccer when you were around 6, there wasn't, like, a girls team for you to be part of, so you and your twin sister became members of the boys team. How did it feel for you as a girl to be on the boys team 'cause, you know, another thing you say in your book is that you don't think you ever dominated a team the way you dominated that boys team when you were a child?

RAPINOE: (Laughter).

GROSS: And, you know, I'm also wondering, like, did the boys really appreciate that? Like, she's really great, and she's on our team. Or did they think it was weird or maybe even uncomfortable that a girl was, like, beating them? You know, you were on the same team, but you were better than they were.

RAPINOE: You know, I don't think I ever really, really thought about it, probably until, you know, fifth or sixth grade - I think that's when, you know, gender lines are drawn more clearly - because, you know, all growing up, we played with each other, we played with boys. It was, you know, during recess, during, you know, intramural sports or whatever it may be - sort of our town sports. It was just kind of, like, what it was. And I think from a very early age, my sister, Rachael, and I were always the best. Like, there was no question. So it wasn't like, you know, we were coming up against these boys and kind of holding our own or kind of not. We were kind of kicking everyone's butt. So I don't think the boys even looked at us like, oh, these are girls, and we're not supposed to lose to girls. It's kind of like, well, yeah, those are the twins, and, like, they're better than everyone.

It was interesting, actually. I think that we were maybe 11 or 12. We played on a boys team that traveled to Sacramento - so we're from a pretty small town in Northern California called Redding; it's about 2 1/2 hours' drive from Sacramento - to a town that, you know, I think because they have so many kids and the sports programs were a lot better, the soccer programs were a lot better, they were split up by boys and girls, I'm sure, a lot earlier. But ours was kind of like, well, let's just get the best, you know, 20 kids that we can find, and we'll just work with that.

But the parents on the other team and even the boys on the other team were really kind of taken aback by it. You know, comments coming from the parents on the sideline - oh, don't let that girl beat you. Or the boys, you could just tell, on the other team were just uncomfortable with the fact that they were being beaten or being bettered by a girl. But that was kind of the first time I sort of realized, like, oh, these parents are not used to this, and clearly this is something that they should look a little deeper into 'cause they seem quite upset.

GROSS: You write that you knew you were never going to be the fastest player or the strongest player, so you had to develop a style rooted in something other than beating people through physical force. Do you think that thinking that you wouldn't be, like, the strongest or the fastest helped you develop your footwork?

RAPINOE: Oh, yeah. Definitely. I think it helped me develop not just my footwork, but my awareness in the game. I mean, obviously, the ultimate goal in soccer is to, you know, get the ball and score. Some people can outrun everyone. Some people are better understanding spatial awareness. I think I was good at that. I think I was understanding, you know, how I could make space for myself in a sort of a strategic way. I mean, I think I'm athletic enough, obviously, to be able to, you know, run fast and do things, but I think I just developed other parts of my game that no matter how fast you are, how strong you are, you can still be really successful if you're creative with the game, if you have good vision, if you know how to get open, if you know how to pull defenses apart, if you can anticipate all of those kinds of things.

GROSS: So I want to ask you about one of your most spectacular plays, which a lot of us have seen either when it happened or on YouTube 'cause the video went viral. It was in 2011. You kick the ball across the field - a big, amazing cross - and then Abby Wambach headed it into the goal. So I want you to describe it from your perspective.

RAPINOE: We're in Dresden, Germany. It's 2011. This is my first World Cup. The game is going very strange from the outset. The crowd, actually, was quite neutral. I think whenever we travel, we generally get a pretty pro-American crowd. There's been very few times where we haven't had that. But the game was weird. We had gotten a red card in, like, the 60th minute, maybe, so one of our players was ejected. I think we were losing at the time, maybe 2-1. And it was - you just felt a weird sort of energy in the crowd.

I think around the time that our player got ejected, Brazil, which is famous - I mean, it's more, honestly, South American countries. And I never really have a problem with it. I think that, like, people always say, like, oh, they're not playing fairly or it's bad sportsmanship, but it really, truly is, like, the way that you learn the game in South America. And it's just a different style than we play, but that doesn't make it wrong. And so I just wanted to put that out there. So they started, you know, wasting time and using, you know, different tactics, but I think they were just trying to waste time and get to the end of the game.

So we end up tying it up. We end up going into overtime. They score in overtime. And you can kind of feel the crowd turn on them as they start to, you know, have more antics and try to waste more time and this and that. So there was some whistling happening. It was just a very strange time.

And we get down to the very final minutes of the game. I mean, we're already past the time. I think it was in the 122nd minute. And I'm really just thinking to myself, like, we're going to lose. Like, oh my God. Like, we're going to lose. The ball - you know, I'm looking at the clock. It's down in our end. We've just, you know, taken the ball from the Brazilians. And then I'm just like, we're going to be, you know, the U.S. team that goes out the earliest that we've ever had. And it's just, you know, tragic.

We start to dribble up the field. It comes across to the middle. Carli Lloyd gets the ball. And I'm just thinking, like, it seemed like she held onto the ball and dribbled the ball for five hours, but it was probably, you know, three seconds. It finally comes over to me. And in all of its sense, it was just a Hail Mary. I didn't see Abby, but I knew she better be there (laughter). I was like, I don't know where else you would be. But you better be somewhere around where I'm trying to kick it. And I just heaved it. I just kicked it literally as hard as I could.

And it was one of the most incredible sports moments ever - all the drama, all of the back story, all of the rivalry. You have this insane, sort of last-second goal, which very rarely happens in soccer. I mean, essentially, that - the game was over. We went into - you know, we tied it up, went into overtime and won in penalties. But that was sort of the deciding moment. And it was just an exceptional moment of emotion, I think, for everybody to feel at the same time, from the players on the field to the crowd, to the people back home. It was just insane.

GROSS: You were one of the first women on the U.S. national women's soccer team to come out. Although, you say there were plenty of other women who were gay but not out (laughter). You say you were one of the only gay players at the time, which is hilarious considering how many gay people were really on the team (laughter). So...

RAPINOE: Yes (laughter).

GROSS: ...What made you decide, like, you were going to publicly come out?

RAPINOE: You know, I honestly felt like - I mean, even going back to when I first sort of discovered I was gay myself, which happened very shortly after I got to college, I never struggled with that. I was actually thrilled. I thought, OK, this is awesome. I felt like my whole life sort of, like, clicked into place. And it just gave me this whole new sense of myself. And just this confidence, I think, kind of bloomed and exploded in me. And it was during - I mean, I think, at the time - maybe just before that - Prop 8 had been on the ballot in California. I'm from California. You know, generally, I think these cases were coming before the Supreme Court.

And it just be-kind-of-came (ph) like, why am I not out? I didn't really have a lot of, you know, interaction with media where I had to hide it or what - you know, nobody was asking. That's not really an appropriate question to ask someone. But it just became one of those things where I did start to notice myself saying some things and not others. And I just was like, what am I doing? Like, why am I even doing that? And why am I not out knowing that it could probably have a really positive impact.

And so I just kind of made the decision. It was actually on the plane ride home from that 2011 World Cup. I was sitting next to my friend Lori, who's also out and played on the team for a long time. And it was just - yeah, it just kind of became, like, why am I not out? This is not feeling right. And so I took, I think, a couple months to sort of figure out exactly what I wanted to do and then came out before the London Olympics in 2012.

GROSS: And what changed afterwards?

RAPINOE: Publicly, I think, a lot changed. I still, to this day, have, you know, people coming up to me or writing to me or whatever it may be, you know, thanking me or saying, you know, I'm the reason they felt OK with themselves, or I'm the reason their family was OK - or, you know, parents coming up to me who, you know, very clearly have little budding gay children. And even if it's an unspoken thing, it's - they see themselves in me.

They see a future for their children that isn't, you know, just all about the stereotype that you hear, which is how hard life is to be gay. And not to say that life isn't difficult being gay. For a lot of people, it really is. But it's not all bad. It's not all struggle. Whenever I go into a room, like, we don't have to talk about the fact that I'm gay. Or an interview or whatever doesn't have to be all about that. But I'm very out and proud and will show that and will live a very out and open life. And I think that that's vital for people to see.

GROSS: I think Sue Bird, who you're engaged to and who is a WNBA star - I think she was not out when you started your relationship. Did you convince her to come out?

RAPINOE: (Laughter) You know, it's funny. The - one of the first things that my twin sister said was, is Sue out? And I was like, no. She's not. Like, she's obviously out with her family and friends and all of that, but not with the media. And she was like, well, she's not going to be able to hide this for very long.

GROSS: (Laughter).

RAPINOE: You're, like, the gayest thing ever (laughter). So - which is so true. It's like, I mean, even though we're only five years apart, that age difference in terms of, you know, the national dialogue or what it was like for her in college compared to what it was like for me in college is so vastly different. It's almost like we're a generation apart in that way of how society was thinking about gay and talking about gay. And so in a way, I think it was just like, she got to this place. She was fine with her family, fine with her friends. She never really, like, struggled with it all that much. But it was, like, you know, just kind of something that - she's more private in general. But, yeah, once big, gay Megan came onto the scene...

GROSS: (Laughter).

RAPINOE: ...She had to make a decision very quickly, I think (laughter).

GROSS: My guest is soccer champion and LGBTQ activist Megan Rapinoe. Her new memoir is called "One Life." We'll talk more after a break. And we'll listen back to my 1987 interview with Alex Trebek. The longtime "Jeopardy!" host died Sunday. This is FRESH AIR.


GROSS: This is FRESH AIR. I'm Terry Gross. Let's get back to my interview with Megan Rapinoe. She's a champion soccer player, and last year, after the U.S. national women's soccer team won its fourth World Cup, she was awarded the Golden Boot as top scorer and the Golden Ball as the tournament's best player. Rapinoe was also part of the U.S. team that won a gold medal at the 2012 Olympics.

Now she's written a new memoir called "One Life." Rapinoe is an LGBTQ activist and recently announced her engagement to Sue Bird, a champion player in the WNBA. Rapinoe has also fought for equal pay in women's soccer. In 2016, a week after Colin Kaepernick took a knee during the national anthem, Rapinoe took a knee in support and faced the consequences. I asked her why she did it and what the immediate reactions were.

RAPINOE: Well, the immediate reaction was bad...


RAPINOE: ...For most people, I would say. But I think bad in the mainstream sense, bad in the, you know, Twittersphere and all of that but - and bad among, you know, white people. But, actually, I would say the amount of support - which came later and came in different ways, you know, from Black people, white people, people all across the spectrum - so far outweighed all of the negativity. But, of course, mainstream media, social media, you know, I think soccer fans in general, which are predominantly white, and I think just the - you know, the majority of America was very, very upset at that time.

What I was thinking at the time - so we've gone through, you know, the summer of 2014. We've gone through the Black Lives Matter protests. You know, going through 2015, that's all still happening. 2016's summer was just so tragic, you know, Alton Sterling and Philando Castile and, you know, the Dallas police officers shot. I think there was more police officers shot in Louisiana as well. And just, you know, kind of coming to a head. The WNBA players had staged protests during their season, actually, you know, refusing to talk about anything but.

And so you kind of get to this moment in Colin Kaepernick, where, you know, the first moment that I saw him speak on "SportsCenter," whatever it was, it was like - it just was very simple to me. Like, this is clearly happening throughout the country. We've gone through Trayvon Martin. We've gone through Michael Brown. We've gone through, you know, Tamir Rice and Philando Castile and all of these - Sandra Bland and all of these horrible tragedies.

And, I mean, of course, we're at this moment. And, of course, what he's saying is true. And it just really struck me. And he sort of put an action to the words that he was saying and the words that I had been reading for so long and the words, you know, of all of these Black Lives Matter protests. And it just was like, OK, this is an action that I can do, that I can help with.

GROSS: So I want to read something that you reprint in your memoir, and this is what U.S. Soccer said in an official statement. And you say it might as well have been headed, Dear Megan. So the statement was, (reading) Representing your country is a privilege and honor for any player or coach that is associated with U.S. Soccer's national team. In front of national and often global audiences, the playing of our national anthem is an opportunity for our men's and women's national team players and coaches to reflect upon the liberties and freedom we all appreciate in the country. As part of the privilege to represent your country, we have an expectation that our players and coaches will stand and honor our flag while the national anthem is played.

What was your action - your reaction when you read that statement?

RAPINOE: I couldn't believe it. I think I was truly sort of dumbstruck. It really upset me. The nerve and the audacity to say what they did in that statement - it is an honor and a privilege that we all have in this country? I don't think so. I don't think we do all have that in this country. So it missed the entire point, clearly. And it was just cruel in a way. It was gaslighting, and it was manipulative, and it was cruel. But it also was very - I thought very intentionally meant to silence me.

GROSS: What are some of the repercussions you faced professionally?

RAPINOE: They're sort of gray repercussions, I'll say. You know, in - like, in terms of sponsorships, I didn't lose any sponsorships, which I think is great. Obviously, Nike's a big sponsor of mine. They have been very supportive. But I certainly didn't get any new sponsorships, and I certainly didn't get any new opportunities sort of in the short term. You know, from U.S. Soccer's perspective, from playing, I really didn't play again until the spring, I think, or even later into the next year.

GROSS: Were you taken out of the lineup?

RAPINOE: In a sense, yes. So this is where the gray part comes in. I - you know, I was - I had played in those two games, in the first two games that I had, you know, knelt. I think that was in October or so. We had a November camp. And I was coming off of an injury, so I wasn't really at my best. But I was clearly on the way back to my best. And, you know, being a player who had just - you know, we just won the World Cup. I was a big part of that team. And I think it was - all signs were leading to, I was going to be coming back and playing back to my best.

But I just needed time, and so that was sort of used as an excuse of, like - you know, I think the next camp, I was left off the roster. December, we didn't have a camp. January was no games, so I did come in and practice. I was left off the next roster and the next roster. So I think they were like, if you just sort of fade off into the distance, we'd be happy with that. You know, I never lost my contract. But, no, they did not really allow me back on the field until the rule was instituted that you had to stand for the national anthem during our games.

GROSS: And did you regret kneeling because of that?

RAPINOE: No, no. No, definitely not. I mean, I think, honestly, the only thing that I regret maybe was when I came back, that I didn't keep kneeling. That's something that I feel like I still struggle with, you know. I didn't want to lose my job. I - you know, I didn't want to not have a platform to talk on. I didn't want to not, you know, keep playing for the national team. And so that was a really tough decision.

I mean, I think in one sense, I probably made the right decision because I sort of battled back and got to a level where I was then undeniable, and then they had a really big problem on their hands because I really wasn't going anywhere - I know you're not going anywhere, either, but you know that I'm not going anywhere. So it became this sort of - you know that I know.

GROSS: U.S. Soccer did eventually lift the ban. When did they lift it?

RAPINOE: Just recently - as, you know, the tragic murder of George Floyd, Ahmaud Arbery and Breonna Taylor, as the protests subsequently, you know, swept the nation, I think that they realized that that policy not only is now - is wrong now, but it always was, and it was the wrong policy. And they came out with a pretty strongly worded statement and rescinded it.

GROSS: And did Colin Kaepernick ever get in touch with you after you kneeled?

RAPINOE: Yes. Yes, we - yeah, we're in touch with each other, for sure.

GROSS: And he certainly faced consequences for kneeling.

RAPINOE: Yeah, he certainly did and, I think, still is. Yeah, I think he's very much still being blackballed. I mean, I think the sentiment among many of the NFL owners still and among Roger Goodell still, whatever they say publicly, is much the same as it was in 2016, when he knelt for the first time. I think if there had been a dramatic shift in their thinking, I think that you would see Colin on a team or at least given a legitimate tryout.

But I think Colin has been really brave in not capitulating to every single demand that the NFL has. I think if Colin comes back and plays, it will be because he was given a fair shot, and he wouldn't have to, you know, sell himself short on anything.

GROSS: Let me reintroduce you here. If you're just joining us, my guest is Megan Rapinoe. She is a member of the U.S. Women's National Team. She helped win the 2015 and 2019 FIFA Women's World Cup tournaments. Her team won a gold medal at the 2012 London Olympics. And she was named the best FIFA women's player in 2019 and was awarded the Golden Boot. Now she has a new memoir which is called "One Life." We'll be right back. This is FRESH AIR.


GROSS: This is FRESH AIR. Let's get back to our interview with Megan Rapinoe. She's a women's soccer star. She's an LGBTQ rights activist. She has really stuck her neck out for equity for women. And now she has a new memoir called "One Life."

One of the things you write about in your memoir is your older brother. He's the person who kind of got you started in soccer because he's older than you are and was playing before you played and got you interested in the sport. When he was in his teens, he started using drugs - opioids, meth and heroin - and he spent a lot of time in and out of prison and spent a lot of time in solitary confinement. And you write that there was a period when he joined a white supremacist gang inside prison and came home with a swastika tattoo. How were you able - have you been able to reconcile the person he became in prison and the brother that you grew up with?

RAPINOE: I mean, I think that we do not understand, as people who have never been in prison - I don't think we really understand prison society is very different from normal society. Not like a, you know, whole-scale excuse for anybody who does anything bad in prison, but I think that the rules are different. I think also, like, multiple things can be true at one time. Things are complicated.

So maybe that is where he found, you know, a sense of community or he found a sense of belonging or just protection. I mean, I think when - if your life is on the line, I think pretty much anybody would do anything in their power to save it. And so while it was just baffling and sort of devastating to even know that, it was like, OK, well, what does it mean? And talk to us about it. And why did you do this? And, like, this is frankly insane.

And I think for him, too, understanding that - you know, I think especially in California because it's so racially diverse, I think that a lot of the tension between the groups was wanted by the prison system to sort of keep everybody in line. It's like, as long as all the prisoners are fighting each other, they're not going to organize and fight against the system that's suppressing them all and locking them away forever and ruining lives.

And so I think he kind of started to realize through his journey, oh, maybe this is - you know, we're all fighting amongst each other, but maybe we really should be fighting against the prison system or against mass incarceration or the drug laws or the three-strikes rule or whatever the reason everybody was in there. And so, you know, it's never excusable, ever. And, you know, white supremacy is just as dark of, you know, a human belief that you could possibly have. But I want to understand it better rather than just say, you know, holy [expletive], you're a white supremacist; like, I'm never going to talk to you again.

GROSS: Is he comfortable with you writing about him?

RAPINOE: I think sometimes (laughter). I'm sure sometimes he's not. Probably in the better times he is. You know, it's difficult 'cause I feel like when he gets really sober, you know, he's about all these things. He was working really hard and, you know, getting his education. He was doing a lot of work with criminal justice reform. He was doing a lot of work even in, like, racial equity and talking about things and breaking down some of these, you know, beliefs that maybe he had with himself. And he was doing really amazing work.

We're aligned, you know, from a philosophical perspective and how we see the world in so many ways. And then there's another person. There's a person who's addicted to drugs and who gets strung out and who, you know, just does what they can to survive and to survive through the daily horror that is addiction. And so I think in some ways, probably yes and, in some ways, probably not.

GROSS: We're living in a very divisive time. You got a lot of criticism in addition to a lot of praise for taking a knee shortly after Colin Kaepernick did. So you represent American teams in the Olympics and in the World Cup. What does the flag mean to you? What does, like, you know, American pride, national pride mean to you?

RAPINOE: I see American pride or at least my personal pride or what I think that the flag should mean is, like, an impossible standard in which we are always trying to get to. Like, we're not there. We were never there. First of all, the country was, you know, founded not on freedom and liberty and justice for all. I think we can just start to be very honest with ourselves about that. It doesn't mean that we don't have some of those qualities and that we can work towards some of those qualities.

But this country was founded on chattel slavery and the brutal and ruthless system of slavery. So let's just, like, all be really honest about that. So when I look at the flag, what I want to see is us constantly trying to live up to these words and live up to this ideal where all people are free and all people do have all of their rights - and all people can have a life filled with liberty and justice for all and who, you know, work hard and have a good life and all of these things. But, I think, we just so clearly have so far to go. And so I see patriotism as constantly demanding better of ourselves.

GROSS: You said that one of the things that sets the U.S. team apart is that you always believe that you'll win. And, in fact, like, we believe that we will win is even a chant at your games. So is that how you're naturally inclined? Or did you have to fool yourself into thinking (laughter), into actually believing that you will win? And can you teach me how to do that? I'm such...


GROSS: I am not - like, yes, I know I will be great. I know I will win (laughter).

RAPINOE: You know, it took some time, I think. Coming onto the team at a young age, you realize very quickly, well, first of all, we do win a lot. So that is what you become accustomed to. But it's - it goes deeper - we win a lot because we really, truly, deep down believe that we're going to win. I think that comes from battling against each other all the time and understanding that it takes more than just a desire to win to win.

You know, it takes a belief. It takes a determination. And it takes a hard work. It takes a trust. And it takes a vulnerability with each other to show up in that way and to be able to kind of lay it out all on the line all the time. I've been in so many games, honestly, where I feel like the other team is too insecure to show how much they want to win, and so they just don't. There's no insecurity on our team about that. It's like, we will, I mean, embarrass ourselves to the nth degree (laughter) to win a game, I think. Like, we would go that far because it's just...

GROSS: Wait. What do you do to embarrass yourself to win?

RAPINOE: We don't care if we're down 4-0. We will never give up. We don't care if we look stupid or whatever. Like, we'll just - we just focus on winning and never giving up. I think it's more of the never giving up part.

GROSS: Megan Rapinoe, thank you so much for talking with us. And congratulations, again, on your engagement and also on the new book.

RAPINOE: Thank you so much for having me on.

GROSS: Megan Rapinoe's new memoir is called "One Life." We recorded our interview Thursday. Coming up, we listen back to my 1987 interview with longtime "Jeopardy!" host Alex Trebek. He died yesterday. This is FRESH AIR.


This is FRESH AIR. We're going to listen back to our interview with Alex Trebek, the longtime host of the popular quiz show "Jeopardy!" He died yesterday of pancreatic cancer. He was 80. Trebek won seven Daytime Emmys for Outstanding Game Show Host, the latest was last June. And he received a Lifetime Achievement Award from the National Academy of Television Arts and Sciences. In 2011, he received a Peabody Award for, quote, "encouraging, celebrating and rewarding knowledge," unquote.

He's in the Guinness Book of World Records for most game show episodes hosted by the same presenter. That's more than 8,000 episodes. He started hosting the show in 1984. I spoke with him in his third year, 1987. "Jeopardy!" is somewhere between a trivia quiz and an IQ test. Contestants try to earn prize money by answering questions in different categories. Trebek would give the answer. The contestant would have to give the question, like this.


UNIDENTIFIED PERSON: May I have authors for $200, please?

ALEX TREBEK: Certainly. The first clue is - in the 1950s, he published "Brave New World Revisited," a supplement to his 1932 work. Joe (ph)?

JOE: Who is Aldous Huxley?

TREBEK: You are right.

JOE: Cards for 200.

TREBEK: The high card in a royal flush poker hand. Lee (ph)?

LEE: What is the ace?

TREBEK: Right.

LEE: Thank you, Alex. I'll start with M for $200, please.

TREBEK: The answer - meaning, belonging to the muses. It's a picture made of colored tiles set in mortar. Joe?

JOE: What is a mosaic?

TREBEK: Right.

JOE: Starts with M for 400.

TREBEK: The answer there is an audio daily double.


GROSS: Maybe a lot of viewers already know the answer to this, but I don't. What's the rationale for having to give the answer in the form of a question?

TREBEK: Basically, it's a gimmick. But it is the gimmick that makes "Jeopardy!" unique among quiz programs. It adds one step to a mental process that is already very difficult for our contestants. And it happens to be the way that Merv Griffin invented the game.

GROSS: I've seen times when a contestant has lost money because instead of saying, what is the Brooklyn Bridge, Alex, they say, the Brooklyn Bridge. Does it make you feel bad when you have to...

TREBEK: Oh, sure.

GROSS: ...Disqualify an answer because it wasn't asked in the form of a question?

TREBEK: Oh, absolutely. I'm not a mean person. I'm there to see that the contestants do as well as they possibly can within the context of the rules. Now, we are lenient to a certain extent. In the Jeopardy! round, the first round of play, we always remind the contestants about their phrasing. We do not do that in Double Jeopardy!, we do not do that in Final Jeopardy!, and we do not do that for any of the Daily Doubles. If they make a mistake in those three instances, unfortunately, it is going to cost them.

And it cost one of our players in last year's Tournament of Champions very dearly. He got the correct response, but he didn't put it in the form of a question. I was heartbroken for him. I had tears in my eyes. He took it a lot better than I did. So, yes, it does upset us when that kind of thing happens. And as a result, we have contestant coordinators working with the players through all the commercial breaks, constantly reminding them, remember; phrase it in the form of a question, especially on Final Jeopardy!

GROSS: Do you guys ever make mistakes in what you think the correct answer is and have to correct it after the commercial?

TREBEK: Usually our facts are correct, but they may be incomplete. A contestant who knows a great deal about a particular subject may be able to enlighten us and say, hey; this really is right. I'm a nuclear physicist, and your question had to do with nuclear physics. And none of your writer-researchers are experts in this field, and I am. And if you look in such and such a book, you'll find that my response is acceptable. And we'll do that, and we'll make a correction.

GROSS: I don't know what your role is in choosing the contestants. Are you involved in that process?

TREBEK: No. The networks are very sensitive to the old scandal problem that gave them a great deal of concern in the 1950s. And so what they like to have is a separation of powers or a separation of personnel, if you will, between the contestant area and the material preparation area. And because I was producer and was overseeing everything, I made a decision on my own to stay out of the contestant selection process entirely.

GROSS: It sounds like it's quite an elaborate process. Contestants have to take tests and then do sample shows before you pass them and make them an official contestant.

TREBEK: Absolutely. It's probably the most difficult test of any show on the air right now, and it has to be. We want our contestants to have a broad base knowledge. We want them to be able to recall information quickly and accurately. We want them to be able to play the game well, and we also would like them to have some measure of personality.

GROSS: For a lot of people, I think getting on a game show is a peak experience. You're not only on TV, but you're also able to make a lot of money while you're on TV, bringing together two of the great American dreams. And people would be so nervous in that moment that I'd imagine a lot of people freeze once the cameras turn on.

TREBEK: Not really.

GROSS: Does that happen a lot? Really? They're that well prepared, huh (ph)?

TREBEK: It doesn't really happen on "Jeopardy!," and I'll tell you why. Most game shows or quiz shows are taped five programs in one day, so you need a whole week's supply of contestants on that particular date. They've already had a rehearsal game prior to this, so they've gotten kind of comfortable with the television lights, with the camera, the music and all of the activity that's going on in the studio.

And in addition, the people who are upcoming contestants are sitting in the audience and are playing the game. They're saying, oh, boy. And you always play it a lot better when you're not involved in it. I'm sure you've heard the comment from your friends who might be "Jeopardy!" fans. They say, gosh, I sit at home in my living room, and I get everything right. Well, that's true. Most people do a lot better in their living rooms than they will ever do on the program. And our contestants react the same way. So they're in the audience, and they're feeling confident. They say, gee, I wish I had that game. Boy, I'd have been able to make $15,000. And now all of a sudden, it's their turn. So they realize nothing bad's going to happen.

What they're concerned about most - and this is true, I would say, of 90% of the "Jeopardy!" players - is not making a fool of themselves. Most of the time, our contestants are not there for the money on "Jeopardy!" They are there to show off their intellectual skills. They are there to have their moment in the sun and be television stars for that half-hour.

GROSS: Well, thanks for talking with us, Alex.

TREBEK: My pleasure, Terry.

GROSS: (Laughter) OK.

My interview with Alex Trebek was recorded in 1987. He died of pancreatic cancer yesterday. He was 80. Tomorrow on FRESH AIR, imagine standing in a soccer field when suddenly the medical device in your chest shoots 2,000 volts of electricity directly to your heart. Our guest will be Katherine Standefer, whose new memoir is about living with an implanted cardiac defibrillator and struggling to keep health insurance as Congress was trying to abolish the Affordable Care Act. She also writes about visiting precious metal mines in Africa to investigate the human cost of making exotic medical devices. I hope you'll join us.


GROSS: FRESH AIR's executive producer is Danny Miller. Our technical director and engineer is Audrey Bentham. Our interviews and reviews are produced and edited by Amy Salit, Phyllis Myers, Sam Briger, Lauren Krenzel, Heidi Saman, Therese Madden, Ann Marie Baldonado, Thea Chaloner, Seth Kelley and Kayla Lattimore. Our associate producer of digital media is Molly Seavey-Nesper. Roberta Shorrock directs the show. I'm Terry Gross.


Transcripts are created on a rush deadline, and accuracy and availability may vary. This text may not be in its final form and may be updated or revised in the future. Please be aware that the authoritative record of Fresh Air interviews and reviews are the audio recordings of each segment.

You May Also like

Did you know you can create a shareable playlist?


Recently on Fresh Air Available to Play on NPR


Daughter of Warhol star looks back on a bohemian childhood in the Chelsea Hotel

Alexandra Auder's mother, Viva, was one of Andy Warhol's muses. Growing up in Warhol's orbit meant Auder's childhood was an unusual one. For several years, Viva, Auder and Auder's younger half-sister, Gaby Hoffmann, lived in the Chelsea Hotel in Manhattan. It was was famous for having been home to Leonard Cohen, Dylan Thomas, Virgil Thomson, and Bob Dylan, among others.


This fake 'Jury Duty' really put James Marsden's improv chops on trial

In the series Jury Duty, a solar contractor named Ronald Gladden has agreed to participate in what he believes is a documentary about the experience of being a juror--but what Ronald doesn't know is that the whole thing is fake.

There are more than 22,000 Fresh Air segments.

Let us help you find exactly what you want to hear.
Just play me something
Your Queue

Would you like to make a playlist based on your queue?

Generate & Share View/Edit Your Queue