We’ll go there. Muhammad Ali is a singular figure in American life. But there are elements of a modern-day Ali in Rapinoe’s stance toward sports and social activism, to say nothing of her ability to turn the glare of publicity—much of it controversial—to her advantage. Who else would say with glee that she was looking forward to a “total s—tshow circus” in a World Cup quarterfinal and then make the most of it when it happened?
Few sports teams are asked to carry so much meaning on their shoulders, to represent so many things to so many people, as the United States women’s soccer team. Few athletes are expected to lead on so many fronts at once, to be leaders for equal pay and gay rights and social justice, to serve as the face of both corporations and their customers. Fewer still have ever been so equipped to handle such a burden, so aware of themselves, so comfortable in their own skin, as those American women.
By demanding that schools provide opportunities for young girls to play sports and mandating that universities provide equal scholarship funding for women, title IX created opportunity and incentive for girls to play sports. Suddenly, not only were energetic, athletic girls given the same opportunities to play as the boys were, but they also had the opportunity for their sporting talent to fund their educations through scholarships.