Here’s a paradox: while our culture lionizes legendary athletes, their stories frequently don’t make the best autobiographies. “I stepped on the field at eight years old and dominated the puny mortals and I kept doing that for the next 30 years” doesn’t often make the most compelling story when expanded to 200 pages.
Instead, the best sports autobiographies tend to be written by iconoclasts. A “Ball Four” here, a “Veeck—As in Wreck” there. Athletic figures who speak their minds at all times unafraid of offending those in power... that’s the stuff that makes a great book.
Megan Rapinoe is the rare athlete who is both. Which is why her memoir, “One Life,” is an invigorating read that’s incredibly hard to put down.
At its best, it calls up the emotional memory of legendary moments like the USWNT’s World Cup victory in 2019 while at the same time unsparingly sharing her blunt opinions about the coach who doubted her or the president who challenged her.
Perhaps the highest compliment I can give “One Life” is that there are almost no moments in the book that felt like Rapinoe was holding back in any way. The story comes off as over 200 pages of pure Megan. And as anyone who has heard her speak on LGBTQ representation or civil rights can attest, that’s utterly compelling. Some of the stories are so well written that you can practically see her typing the final period and striking The Pose.
Written with Emma Brockes, “One Life” begins with the September 2016 moment when Rapinoe decided to kneel for the national anthem in solidarity with Colin Kaepernick’s protest and the subsequent firestorm of controversy it created. This works well as a framing device not only because it’s one of her most memorable moments of activism but also by going back in time from there to examine how her worldview was formed, Rapinoe’s life story illustrates how her decision to protest became inevitable.
By the end of the book as she’s recounting how her life changed with the spotlight the 2019 World Cup thrust upon her, you get the sense that Rapinoe is trying to tell readers, “I’ve always been this way. You’re just happening to notice me now.”
Rapinoe’s honesty is one of her best qualities both as a person and as a narrator. It particularly shines through when she discusses her coming of age and eventual realization that she was gay. Her memory of specific feelings during that time such as, “I would look at a boy and have this feeling of I don’t know if he’s cute or not. I just don’t know!” hit incredibly close to home. It’s one of the strongest aspects of a very well written book.
It also makes the story of Rapinoe realizing she had a crush on a teammate in college and her immediate acceptance of “duh, fucking clearly I’m gay and why didn’t anyone tell me?” feel like one of the most important of her many personal victories.
She and Brockes also do a good job of connecting the various threads in her life to help illustrate some of her most impactful decisions. The self-acceptance Rapinoe felt upon realizing she was gay was so profound that when she became a nationally known athlete, she realized that she had to come out because she simply couldn’t be herself without discussing her sexuality. As she phrases it on the plane ride back from a loss in the 2011 World Cup, “Why am I not out, I thought, impatiently. Why are we all not out?”
If there’s one area of the book where it feels like Rapinoe holds back, it’s in her description of some of her romantic relationships. It’s not even that I’d suddenly want her to turn the book into a salacious kiss-and-tell either. But previous girlfriends like Abby Wambach or her first fiancé enter and leave the narrative almost like placeholders of Rapinoe’s heart before the fateful meeting with Sue Bird. It would have been nice to know more about why they meant something to her at the time even though the relationships didn’t last.
Bird, as you would expect, gets appropriately lionized as the soulmate Rapinoe had been searching for and it’s abundantly clear (and sweet!) how right they are for each other. As Outsports reported last month, Rapinoe and Bird are now engaged to be married.
All in all, “One Life” is an outstanding narrative of an exemplary life. Megan Rapinoe’s many accomplishments on the pitch are celebrated but what takes center stage is how she uses those moments to further the causes she believes in.
It’s that combination of transcendent athletic accomplishment and iconoclastic social justice activism that makes Rapinoe unique as an athlete—and now as an author.
Megan Rapinoe’s memoir “One Life” comes out tomorrow, Nov. 10, but is available now for pre-order.