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Coming home from the Tokyo Olympics with a bronze medal instead of the gold didn’t constitute the biggest blow for Megan Rapinoe. The U.S. Women’s National Team stalwart is a piñata for critics, and former teammate Hope Solo’s allegation isn’t even the worst of it.

Hope Solo says she saw Megan Rapinoe ‘almost bully players’

Megan Rapinoe reacts after receiving her bronze medal at the Tokyo Olympics. | Naomi Baker/Getty Images

The U.S. Women’s National Team is the latest squad to succumb to the jinx. With the Americans settling for third place in Tokyo, no country has held the World Cup and Olympic women’s soccer titles simultaneously since 2004. If that wasn’t disappointing enough, USWNT players alienated many by kneeling during the national anthem, part of their ongoing practice.

Commentators swamped social media with gleeful comments after Sweden overwhelmed the United States, 3-0, in the tournament opener. The criticism continued after a team that former goalkeeper Hope Solo called one of the most talented teams ever lost in penalty kicks during the semifinals.

Solo experienced an unhappy breakup with the team in 2016, and some bitterness clearly remains. She dished a bit of dirt on a recent podcast while discussing the kneeling that began in earnest as a response to comments by then-president Donald Trump.

“I’ve seen Megan Rapinoe almost bully players into kneeling because she really wants to stand up for something in her particular way,” Solo said. “But it’s our right as Americans to do it in whatever way we’re comfortable with. And I think that’s really hard being on the main stage right now with so many political issues for athletes. There’s a lot of pressure.”

Megan Rapinoe has been a lightning rod for criticism

Rapinoe joined the USWNT in 2006 and has scored 61 goals in 186 appearances. As one of the longest-tenured players on the team, she has served as captain and is highly recognizable. However, her outspokenness, including a running skirmish with Trump, has put her in the crosshairs of critics who oppose the intertwining of sports and politics.

Rapinoe began kneeling shortly after NFL quarterback Colin Kaepernick began his protests in 2017, and most teammates began joining her in the practice following George Floyd’s death at the hands of Minneapolis police in May 2020.

Given the timeline, Solo’s claim of seeing Rapinoe “almost bully players” doesn’t seem to ring true. Though they spent a decade as teammates, Solo had left the team by the time Rapinoe began kneeling. However, Solo has remained in contact with former teammates, so it is possible that she has valid insight into what goes on within the USWNT.

The problems go beyond a bullying accusation

Rapinoe, 36, showed up as part of an ad campaign for Subway sandwich shops this summer. Management hoped to cash in on Olympic success to boost sales at the country’s 22,000 independently operated locations, but the Tokyo tournament didn’t play out as expected.

Business Insider reported that the ad campaign has caused a mutiny among franchisees, who say customers’ negative feelings about Rapinoe are eating into business.  

“The ad should be pulled and done with,” one franchisee wrote on a private message board used by store operators. “It gets tiring apologizing.”

An analyst in the food industry understands the frustration.

“They probably wanted more splashy advertising to go along with more splashy foods,” John Gordon of Pacific Management Consulting Group told the New York Post. “We are so politically divided in this country and Subway should have done more careful due diligence, without a doubt, before choosing (Rapinoe).”

Said one franchise owner: “Spending our money to make a political statement is completely and totally out of bounds.”

Ad campaigns come and go, and Subway will likely shift entirely to spots featuring Tampa Bay Buccaneers quarterback Tom Brady by the start of the NFL regular season. However, the current blowback against Rapinoe doesn’t bode well for her future pitching products off the pitch.

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