Megan Rapinoe Grateful Other Players Are 'Feeling More Empowered' to Speak Out About Social Justice

Megan Rapinoe, who chatted with PEOPLE, subverts gender norms in a new ad for Schmidt’s natural deodorant

There isn't much Megan Rapinoe is afraid of.

The star soccer player became a household name during her impressive run with the U.S. Women's National Soccer Team on their way to winning their fourth Women's World Cup title in summer 2019, dazzling fans with her skills on the pitch and her vocal stance in support of several social justice causes.

A year and a half later, Rapinoe, 35, returned to the team after time away to the majority of her teammates kneeling during the national anthem in protest against police brutality. The players have also released several statements condemning racial injustice and wear "Black Lives Matter" on their jackets ahead of games.

"I'm so happy and I'm so thankful that we're having these conversations, that players are feeling more empowered, and we're supported to take these positions," Rapinoe, one of the first athletes to join Colin Kaepernick in his #TakeAKnee protests years ago, tells PEOPLE while promoting her campaign with Schmidt's natural deodorant, which encourages people to fight against the "Fear of Body Odor."

"Ultimately, what's amazing about it is that we're using our voice for good," she continues. "We're starting to have this broader conversation, and we're contributing to the solution of this and not being one of the roadblocks."

Rapinoe's activism extends to her partnership with Schmidt's, the latest in her growing list of carefully selected sponsors. She tells PEOPLE the brand's "cheeky" identity matched her own, and their gender-neutral natural products appealed to her.

"I think we think a lot about, especially as an athlete for me, what I'm putting in my body and what I'm doing to my body, but not always what I'm putting on my body every single day," she admits. "So to complete the circle in that way, it's just the best choice for me. And I'm really excited to be partnered with this brand for the next couple of years."

Rapinoe adds, "I know people have the F.O.B.O. — the fear of B.O. And it's a real fear. I feel like my experience is that it actually works. It smells great, which is important to me, and it gives me this kind of fresh feel, and it actually works. And that's coupled that with it being good for you, and sort of being the best choice for my body, I feel like that's just a win-win."

megan rapinoe
Kamp Kennedy

Finding causes and products that she believes in is at the center of Rapinoe's brand.

The athlete first kneeled in protest during the national anthem in 2016. She was met with widespread backlash and almost lost her national team career when she continued to kneel despite warnings that it would get her kicked off the team.

Megan Rapinoe
Kevin C. Cox/Getty

Though U.S. Soccer later banned kneeling, the federation reversed their decision this past summer after George Floyd's death and Rapinoe finally knelt alongside most of her teammates in January.

"I'm just so proud of how far the team has come and a lot of players have come, and how far the federation has come," she tells PEOPLE. "I think it's not an easy thing to go from the position that they were holding, which was very much not in support of me, and not in support of what Colin [Kaepernick] was doing, to apologizing this summer, apologizing to the Black and brown players that represent the national team."

She continues, "Apologizing to the fans and to the sponsors and then to media alike, and really acknowledging that they were wrong, and looking to move forward. And I think that's all you can ask for, is people to have open hearts and open minds."

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