Despite it being 2023 and despite women being treated, at least by some sectors of society as fully functioning human beings who can do just as good a job as men, it remains astonishingly rare for female athletes to transcend their sport.

The examples of individuals who have managed this remain remarkably uncommon.

Serena Williams did it. Cathy Freeman did it.

And Megan Rapinoe has done it.

America’s most widely-recognised footballer, male or female, will play her last game for her country today.

The USA will take on South Africa in a friendly match in Chicago, with Rapinoe pulling on the USWNT shirt for the last time.

It is, unquestionably, the end of an era.

Rapinoe, whatever you think of her, has, in the course of her 20-year international career, become a phenomenon.

On the field, she is one of the greatest-ever.

Over 200 appearances for the US national team, 63 international goals, two Women’s World Cup wins, an Olympic gold medal, winner of the Ballon d'Or Féminin, named the FIFA Women's Player of the Year and awarded the World Cup Golden Boot and Golden Ball.

It’s quite a list.

But it’s what Rapinoe did off the field that has ensured her legacy will endure long after she’s hung up her boots.

Rapinoe took one look at the suggestion that athletes, particularly female athletes should stay in their lane - that they should stick to sport and not deviate – and disregarded it entirely.

The now 38-year-old became one of the most overtly political athletes in modern times; and she proved that it was entirely possible to do both sport and politics, to the detriment of neither.

She was not just willing, but eager, to stand up to people, and particularly men, in power, such as Donald Trump.

Rapinoe got into a furious war of words with Trump on Twitter, resulting in the former US President orchestrating a pile-on, which still did nothing to shut up Rapinoe.

In the aftermath of her side’s 2019 Women’s World Cup victory, it would have been expected for the side to be invited to meet the President, but Rapinoe quickly made clear she was “not going to the f****ng White House”.

This is not the lone example of Rapinoe being political – she was one of the first to follow Colin Kaepernick’s lead by taking the knee back in 2016, which is what sparked much of the hatred towards her, from exactly those you’d expect.

She’s fought hard for LGBTQ rights and women’s rights and she’s used her platform to further her causes as forcefully as she possibly could have.

The Californian was also instrumental in the fight for the women’s US national side to be awarded equal pay, a battle that was eventually won last year and something that she has said is what she considers as her greatest achievement within the sport.

It would be entirely disingenuous to suggest Rapinoe is universally popular.

The truth could not, in fact, be further from this.

Rapinoe divides people like few others within sport. Most either love her or hate her, with very few having no opinion at all of her.

I’m in the former category.

I love that she’s got a big mouth. I love that she has never cared who she upsets.

I love that she was unashamedly herself, however many people may have disliked it.

And I love how she refused to quieten down for anyone.

The Herald: Megan Rapinoe

So often, women in sport, and actually within society in general, end up censoring their views or shutting up entirely in order to mitigate a backlash against them.

Rapinoe did nothing of the sort. In fact, she actively welcomed much of the backlash.

So, so much of the backlash came from men.

They hated that she had opinions, and she voiced them.

There were, as would be expected with someone like Rapinoe, occasions where she got it indisputably wrong.

There’s a famous clip that’s done the rounds on social media for a number of years where a young fan hands her a football to sign at an awards ceremony. Rapinoe takes the ball, signs it and hands it back without giving so much as a fleeting glance at the young boy.

Whatever the context, it wasn’t a great look for the American.

She was, throughout the course of her career but particularly in the latter stages, arrogant, cocky and brash, with many of her goal celebrations pretty tacky.

Her ability to polarise opinion meant that when she missed a penalty in the shootout in the USA v Sweden match at this summer’s Women’s World Cup, which contributed to her side being eliminated from the tournament in the last 16, it elicited unadulterated glee from those who have come to despise her.

Rapinoe’s record on the pitch will take some bettering, but it’s her legacy off the pitch that has ensured she’s changed things forever for female athletes.

She gloriously quashed the views that female athletes should keep their mouths shut, and that equality was a distant dream.

Rapinoe has challenged entirely the opinion that female athletes are inferior to male athletes, or that women’s sport is substandard to men’s sport.

She’s refused to adhere to any assumptions or expectations about what female athletes, or women in general, “should” act like.

We’ll never see another Megan Rapinoe, but I predict we will see many more who are made from the same mould as her in coming generations. And that’s because Rapinoe has forged the path making it so much easier for those who’ll follow her to be the kind of person she’s been.