On Wednesday morning, Megan Rapinoe, dressed in her “World Champion 2019” shirt, massive red-framed sunglasses, and her now-signature pink hair, was on a float in the ticker-tape parade in New York City, surrounded by teammates, fans, and, because nothing can be perfect, New York mayor Bill DeBlasio. She had been partying for three days straight with her teammates, ever since the moment they won their second consecutive — and fourth overall — World Cup championship in Lyon, France. But the party was far from over.
Her left foot was propped high in the air, putting her left knee about parallel with her shoulder. The World Cup trophy was in her left hand, and resting atop her knee. In her right hand, was a bottle of champagne. She turned to her friend, Ashlyn Harris — a back-up goalkeeper for the U.S. Women’s National Team (USWNT) whose documentation of the group’s post-victory celebration bender will go down in the annals of women’s sports history — and told the whole world through Instagram stories, “I deserve this. I deserve this. Everything.”
To some, this might be considered an off-the-cuff, light-hearted statement. But it was far from that. This was an earth-shattering declaration, a pointed rebuttal to everyone who has ever told women that their worth was tied directly to humility and modesty; a mantra for women everywhere who feel pressured to tone down their happiness to make others more comfortable, to turn down compliments or brush-off accolades. It was the opposite of, “thank you,” and a complete rejection of, “I’m sorry,” a phrase that most women utter, on average, 100 times a day, often to nobody in particular, as they merely move around the world.
It was a motto that summed up the entire World Cup run of the USWNT. Three months before the tournament began, they sued U.S. Soccer for equal pay, taking the fight for equality onto the biggest stage in the sport. Once in France, they smashed record after record and celebrated with abandon at every turn — drawing massive amounts of criticism for being too demonstrative about their happiness. They didn’t apologize; they just kept winning, and sipping tea. And then, when the last whistle blew in Lyon, France, to solidify their 2-0 victory over the Netherlands in the final, they kicked off a globe-trotting, ass-shaking, champagne-soaked, expletive-laden party, which the players — particularly Harris — shared with the public on social media.
Seeing these women cussing and pouring champagne on one another, holding signs asking for beers, unapologetically flaunting their drunken happiness in public — in a display that rivaled the shirtless shenanigans of J.R. Smith when the Cleveland Cavaliers won the NBA championship, or the over-the-top water-fountain antics of Alex Ovechkin when the Washington Capitals won the Stanley Cup Finals last year — wasn’t just entertaining; it was down-right inspiring.
Other elite female athletes acclaimed the champs.
“I’m kind of obsessed with them right now. I just can’t. Like, they’re so dope,” Ariel Atkins, a second-year player for the WNBA’s Washington Mystics, told ThinkProgress. “They’re not trying to flex for the media and trying to be like, all preppy and professional all the time. I mean, they are who they are, And that is professionalism, being exactly who you are and showing people that athletes are humans too.”
Atkins admitted that like the rest of the world, she’s spent a lot of time over the last week watching Harris’s Instagram stories. So has Sophie Cunningham, a rookie for the Phoenix Mercury.
“They are so badass. Having them go out there and being feisty the way they have been, it has been inspiring to me. For them to go out there, to see them having fun, now I want to win a championship so this team can experience that,” Cunningham said.
“They’re not hiding who they are. They are themselves. I think that is so awesome for all women and men to see.”
This all began on Sunday, after the confetti was cannoned and the trophies delivered, when the players got back to the tarp-covered locker room, put on their goggles, turned up the music, and started popping bottles. We got to see what it looked like, in real time, as the weight of the world was lifted off of their shoulders, and the women began to realize what exactly they had accomplished. The early mornings and healthy eating, the skipped parties and long workouts, the time away from family and friends and all the doubts that this team faced when it came to France, it had all been worth it. Heck, the President of the United States had even come after Rapinoe during the tournament, after a clip of her saying, “I’m not going to the fucking White House” went viral, and the team only got stronger after that.
So of course they partied. Alex Morgan twerked. Crystal Dunn chugged beer. Tobin Heath sang, “We are the champions” at the top of her lungs. Harris documented it all, and then turned the camera on herself and said, in instantly-iconic fashion, “You’re fucking welcome for this content, bitch.”
Ashlyn Harris’ instastories are the best thing on the internet rn pic.twitter.com/JLDjftOSpj
— em (@East_From_Eden) July 7, 2019
After the locker-room celebration, the players went to an after-party, where they danced on the bar, took shots, and did a lot more shouting. On Monday, they took a chartered flight back to New York City, and when they landed, they were still singing and dancing and drinking. Tuesday, after waking up early to go to Good Morning America, they had a private roof-top player’s-only pool party, and then took the party to a Yacht in the East River.
Some how, on Wednesday morning, they were still standing and able to participate in the parade, which became about far more than their World Cup victory, and turned into a rally for equality. All along the parade route, fans held signs that read, “Equal Pay.” And the players — who, it must be stressed, were surrounded by the U.S. Soccer officials they are suing during this celebration — actually used their lawsuit as confetti during the parade.
When the players stood in City Hall — still drinking — and waiting to come out on stage for the speech portion of the program, Harris took to Instagram to show copies of the lawsuit in the trees outside, and strewn across the floor of City Hall.
“Our lawsuit is in the fucking trees,” Harris said. Moments later, as Allie Long literally ate the lawsuit, Harris added, “Pay us, bitch.”
Daddy will pay us. He loves his girls. 🤷🏼♀️ https://t.co/WuWyb9fnWu
— Ashlyn Harris (@Ashlyn_Harris) July 10, 2019
That afternoon, they got on a cross-country flight, received hair and makeup on the plane, and then took the ESPYs — a sports-centric awards show hosted by ESPN — by storm.
From Sunday morning to Wednesday night, every single thing these women did was about celebrating themselves. It was a flashy, raucous, attention-grabbing, euphoric, and often crude showcase of success. It was revolutionary. It was true equality.
Most of the time, female athletes either lack the time, resources, or platform to hold a celebration like this one — a celebration like we see male athletes have every single time a championship is clinched. Diana Taurasi, a guard for the Phoenix Mercury and the WNBA’s all-time leading scorer, said that because of the year-round demands on female basketball players, they never get the time to celebrate like the USWNT did this week.
“We usually win something, and we never get to celebrate it. We’ve won four [Olympic] gold medals, and the next day, you’re flying back to your WNBA team,” Taurasi said. “It’s like you don’t even get to enjoy winning.”
That’s a big reason why the USWNT’s drunken victory tour meant so much to women everywhere — because most of the time, athletes or not, women aren’t encouraged or even given the time to celebrate their accomplishments.
It’s also why so many pearl-clutchers expressed outrage at the audaciousness of the championship parade. Because the world never gets to see women let loose like this. Under every single social media post about these antics, there are floods of people calling the players classless, arrogant, and embarrassing, and scolding them for not being good enough role models for little girls everywhere. But the best part of the celebration was that is wasn’t about anyone else; this team has worked so hard, not only to be the best at their craft, but to fight for equal pay for the next generation, and to stand up for the rights of women, the LGBTQ community, and minorities. This party was about taking a moment to celebrate themselves. Because, as Rapinoe said, they deserved it.
“I mean, they’re just being themselves. I think that’s all you can do. Just be authentically you. They’re great people, and they’re great athletes,” said Mystics’ All-Star Kristi Toliver, who is friends with Pinoe and Harris.
“And you know, they’re about the right thing. So if that upsets people, [those people are] probably in the wrong.”