GREENWICH, Conn. — Megan Rapinoe, the American soccer player so decorated with medals and trophies that she’s practically gilded, has a book coming out on Tuesday. But it’s only kind of about sports.
Yes, important games are reconstructed and injuries recounted. But readers will also learn about redlining and how Black service members were excluded from the G.I. Bill. She writes about the pay disparity between male and female professional soccer players. And her white privilege makes its first appearance in the prologue: “A small, white, female soccer player — even a lesbian one with a loud voice and pink hair — lands differently in the press than, say, a six-foot-four-inch Black football player with an Afro.”
Absent from the book are the standard admonishments that if you just work hard enough, you will, somehow, become a professional athlete.
“You know who else works hard?” Rapinoe writes. “Everyone.”
Indeed, her memoir, “One Life,” tracks the arc of her political awakening at least as much as it follows the path of her sports career. In the book, we find a thoroughly modern athlete who plays hard and wins a lot of games, then funnels her public profile and social-media following into activism, not just endorsements.
“There’s nothing that I could tell someone about my journey as an athlete that would help them become an elite athlete,” Rapinoe said in an interview last month, a bright blue beanie pulled over the pandemic haircut she received from her fiancée, the W.N.B.A. star Sue Bird.
“I wanted to write this book because there’s so much more happening here than the sports,” she added, “and I think we can use that as a vehicle to really talk about what I see as the most important work in my life, which is all the stuff we’re doing off the field.”
Rapinoe, 35, has been playing soccer professionally for more than a decade, but she burst into national consciousness in 2016. That was the year when she followed Colin Kaepernick in taking a knee during the national anthem, and when she filed a federal complaint, with four of her teammates, against the United States Soccer Federation for wage discrimination.
As she writes in the book, even though the women’s team has won far more games and titles than the American men, a top women’s player could expect to earn less than half what a comparable player on the men’s squad makes.
“As a woman, you’re in constant protest of our society,” Rapinoe said. “Of course there’s no space for us. We didn’t build it.”
But as an athlete, her public profile has certainly been helped by the women’s team’s success. Rapinoe has an Olympic gold medal and two FIFA World Cup title medals, which she thinks are under some paperwork in her office in Seattle. After last year’s World Cup victory in France, there were TV interviews, magazine covers and a ticker-tape parade, and the team was presented with the keys to New York City. She also caught the ire of President Trump on Twitter when she said that she would refuse an invitation to celebrate their win at the White House.
With all that came the chance for Rapinoe to write a book.
By her own admission, she does not hold her liquor terribly well, and she rolled into a day of meetings with publishers nursing a hangover after a friend convinced her to end a night at the Tribeca restaurant Marc Forgione with an ill-advised shot of Chartreuse. The last meeting of the day was with Ann Godoff, the Penguin Press founder who has edited writers like Ron Chernow, Zadie Smith, Michael Pollan and Karl Ove Knausgaard.
Not the kind of person who would seem a natural fit for a traditional sports memoir.
Yet Godoff saw Rapinoe’s story as one of transformation from athlete into activist, and she thought her life would appeal to a wide swath of people. “To tell you the truth, I went after this, and I don’t really do that very much any more,” Godoff said.
Particularly appealing to Godoff, a gay baby boomer, was how out and proud Rapinoe has been. “We can do something for a generation much younger than you and much, much younger than me,” she recalled saying to Rapinoe.
“If I had read this book as a 13-year-old girl,” Godoff added, “something would have changed for me. And I think we’ll have that.”
The title of Rapinoe’s book, “One Life,” was Godoff’s suggestion; it comes from the Mary Oliver poem “The Summer Day.” (“Tell me, what is it you plan to do with your one wild and precious life?”) Godoff edited her, too.
She connected Rapinoe with the author and journalist Emma Brockes, who agreed to ghostwrite the story. They spent two days at a Sheraton hotel in Orlando and many hours on the phone, as Brockes absorbed Rapinoe’s life story and learned to channel her voice — though Rapinoe is not shy about cursing, and that had to be winnowed down.
“She agreed she’d give me everything she could and then withdraw or redact stuff,” Brockes said. “When it came to it, she was incredibly open and honest and very little came out — nothing really. We just took down the [expletive] count.”
Brockes also spoke extensively with Rapinoe’s family, especially her fraternal twin sister, Rachael, and spent time with their mother, Denise, whom Brockes — the mother of twin girls herself — has subsequently called for parenting advice.
Rapinoe was raised in Redding, Calif., a conservative town where her mother worked as a waitress and her father, Jim, worked in construction. Denise is described as the lodestar of a big, loud family, full of opinions and advice — Rapinoe has “Mammers,” her mother’s nickname, tattooed on her left wrist. (In true 2020 style, it was a stick-and-poke tattoo given to her by a W.N.B.A. referee on her last night in the league’s bubble.)
Rapinoe is also open in the book about the ongoing drug addiction of her brother, Brian, who has spent years in and out of prison. He is described with great tenderness and an eye toward the systems that have contributed to his troubles.
“The way people serving time are spoken of reminds me of the myth peddled by right-wing politicians — that the only difference between the rich and the poor is the latter’s own fecklessness,” Rapinoe writes. “If you are a ‘repeat offender,’ it’s not because of structural failings within the system, just as if you are a drug addict, it’s not because opioid manufacturers aggressively marketed their drugs at you until you were hooked. Instead, you are in jail, or an addict, because that is, at root, who you are.”
She is candid about her romantic life, chronicling relationships with, among others, Abby Wambach, a former teammate who is now married to the writer Glennon Doyle. As told in the book, when Rapinoe arrived at college and realized she was a lesbian, her life suddenly made sense.
“Clearly I’m gay and why didn’t anyone tell me?” was her first thought, she wrote. “And number two: This is awesome.”
The relationship that gets the most attention is her partnership with Bird. Since leaving the W.N.B.A. bubble — in which Bird’s team, the Seattle Storm, won this year’s championship — the couple has been living in Greenwich, Conn., where they have been swimming, using a Tonal, which is like a high-tech Murphy bed version of a weight machine, and riding their Peloton.
Despite being one of the most decorated soccer players in the country, Rapinoe says she’s not so good at the Peloton. When the output of the thousands of users who participate in each ride are displayed, she said she consistently hovers around the bottom 30 percent.
But before heading to Greenwich, Rapinoe and Bird took a trip with some friends to Antigua, where they got engaged. Rapinoe was lounging on the side of a pool, and when she went to stand up, somebody said it looked like she was kneeling. She hadn’t planned on proposing just then, she said, but she’d been thinking about it daily for months, and there was no real question for either of them that they would eventually get married.
“We locked eyes, and I thought, this is definitely the moment,” she said.
So Rapinoe, who wears a lot of jewelry, took a simple gold band off her own finger and proposed.
A picture of that moment went viral. Even former Vice President Joseph R. Biden Jr. retweeted it and offered his congratulations. No such congratulations were forthcoming from Mr. Trump.