In the wake of Sue Bird’s final WNBA game, the accolades for her incredible career have been pouring in from all corners of the sports universe. And they read like one of the most badass LinkedIn profiles of all time:
Five Olympic gold medals. Four WNBA championships. 13 All Star Games. Two NCAA titles.
To say the least, Bird’s reputation on the court as one of basketball’s all-time greats is secure. But even beyond those accomplishments, one very important aspect of her legacy took place off the hardwood.
Bird and her partner Megan Rapinoe mainstreamed the concept of the gay sports power couple. And in doing so, they redefined the term itself.
Until Bird and Rapinoe came along, the idea of a sports power couple usually meant one athlete and one celebrity or entertainer, such as Joe DiMaggio and Marilyn Monroe, Tom Brady and Gisele Bundchen, Alex Rodriguez and Jennifer Lopez/Madonna/Cameron Diaz/himself.
To be sure, there was the occasional Nomar Garciparra-Mia Hamm athletic powerhouse partnership. But they were the exception — and they were almost always straight.
Then Bird and Rapinoe met at the 2016 Summer Olympics and began dating shortly thereafter. Almost from that very moment, the public embraced the two of them unlike any gay or lesbian athlete couple before.
The two legends began seeing each other only a year after the Obergefell decision, which turned out to be fitting, as they eventually became the sports power couple for the legalized gay marriage generation. Bird and Rapinoe got engaged themselves in October 2020.
While both were celebrated for their considerable athletic accomplishments, they also used their platforms to make sure that the country saw their partnership as often as possible.
The two were just as comfortable taking part in a Beauty Issue photo shoot for InStyle Magazine as they were becoming the first same-sex couple featured in ESPN Magazine’s Body Issue. Shortly after that, they co-hosted the 2020 ESPY Awards.
Perhaps most importantly, at a time we were looking for any glimmer of hope we could find, Bird and Rapinoe hosted weekly raucous Instagram Lives during the onset of the pandemic, filled with joy, singing, charity and laughter. It turned out that during “these unprecedented times,” we needed to see multi-time world champion partners crooning Avril Lavigne to one another way more than we would have ever guessed.
Every one of these moments helped normalize the concept of two female athletes sharing their love for one another with the rest of the world. Every one of their appearances was a victory for the idea that the country was ready to embrace a lesbian celebrity couple from the sports world.
Of course, it also helped that we were there to celebrate their athletic triumphs as well. Between Bird’s GOAT resumé and Rapinoe’s two World Cups and Olympic Gold Medal, a good case can be made that the two of them are also the most accomplished sports couple ever.
Given that both Bird and Rapinoe are also speak out for equality, it’s a given we will continue to hear from them, even though Bird’s playing career is done. And they will continue to make us proud.
When Sue Bird was serenaded with chants of “THANK YOU SUE!” from the Seattle Storm’s home arena after her final playoff game, the fans could just as easily have been speaking for the LGBTQ community, too.