“It is with a deep sense of peace and gratitude that I have decided this will be my final season playing this beautiful game,” Rapinoe wrote, in a post that featured a photo of the 38-year-old when the Redding, Calif., native was a little girl. “I never could have imagined the ways in which soccer would shape and change my life forever, but by the look on this little girl’s face, I think she knew all along.”
“Congrats, baby!!” wrote Rapinoe’s fiancée, former WNBA star and Olympic Gold Medalist Sue Bird, on her Instagram post. “That little girl is going to continue to do so much good in this world (but she sure did kill it on the field). I love you!”
Bird told an interviewer last year if it were up to her, she would have married Rapinoe in 2021, but that most likely they won’t tie the knot until after this season.
Rapinoe met Bird at the 2016 Summer Olympics in Rio and reportedly started dating that fall, but Bird didn’t come out as gay until July 2017, as the Blade reported. The following summer, Bird and Rapinoe became the first same-sex couple in ESPN’s The Body Issue. In 2019, Rapinoe posed for Sports Illustrated’s swimsuit issue, becoming that iconic magazine’s first out gay woman to do so. Last year, President Biden awarded her the Presidential Medal of Freedom.
“I want to thank my family for being by my side all these years. Thanks to all my teammates and coaches all the way back to my first days in Redding, on to college at the University of Portland and of course thanks to U.S. Soccer, the Seattle Reign and especially Sue, for everything,” said Rapinoe in a statement posted online by U.S. Soccer.
The organization hailed Rapinoe for “her amazing talents on the field, her creative goal scoring, her clutch performances in some of the biggest matches of her career,” and for her social justice work off the pitch, from LGBTQ+ rights to racial inequality, voter rights and gender and pay equity. “She leaves the game as one of the most impactful figures in the history of soccer in the United States and in the global women’s game.”
Rapinoe, one of Time Magazine’s 2023 Women of the Year honorees, was the first white athlete and the first woman to kneel during the National Anthem to show her solidarity with NFL player Colin Kaepernick.
“I’ve been able to have such an incredible career, and this game has brought me all over the world and allowed me to meet so many amazing people,” Rapinoe said in the statement from U.S. Soccer. “I feel incredibly grateful to have played as long as I have, to be as successful as we’ve been, and to have been a part of a generation of players who undoubtedly left the game better than they found it. To be able to play one last World Cup and one last NWSL season and go out on my own terms is incredibly special.”
She is scheduled to play in her final World Cup this summer in Australia and New Zealand. After that, Rapinoe is set to complete her historic soccer career in the National Women’s Soccer League and end the 2023 season with her long-time club, OL Reign. Although their last game will be in Chicago against the Red Stars on Oct. 15, the OL Reign announced the team will hold a “Forever Reign” celebration of Rapinoe’s career at their last home match at Lumen Field on Oct. 6 against the Washington Spirit.
“I will forever cherish the friendships and support over the years in this game,” she said, “and I am beyond excited for one last ride with the National Team and the Reign.”
Rapinoe has been a longtime advocate for transgender athletes, and just this week defended trans inclusion in sports in an interview with LinkedIn News: “I think a lot of athletes feel the same, they would give up any sort of championship so that a kid doesn’t feel like they don’t belong in the world.”
“You’ve given so much not only to soccer but to sports and the world beyond,” wrote trans trailblazer and author Schuyler Bailar in a comment on Rapinoe’s Instagram post. “Thank you for all that you are and all that you’ve done.”
“So proud of you!” wrote USWNT teammate Ali Krieger of the NJ/NY Gotham FC, who announced in March that she, too, is retiring at the end of the season. “Most important, you’re an incredible human and friend.”