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21% of men say they're afraid to hire women after #MeToo. Megan Rapinoe isn't having it

The Best FIFA Women's Player Award finalist Megan Rapinoe of Reign FC and United States poses for a portrait ahead of The Best FIFA Football Awards 2019 at Excelsior Hotel Gallia on September 23, 2019 in Milan, Italy.
Gareth Cattermole - FIFA/FIFA via Getty Images

It's a rainy Monday in New York City, and Megan Rapinoe is about to become the fourth woman honored as Sports Illustrated's Sportsperson of The Year in the award's 66-year history.

She is beaming.

This year, the midfielder and U.S. Women's National Soccer Team captain has been honored with many awards: the 2019 Ballon d'Or, the 2019 Best FIFA Women's Player, the Women Sports Foundation's 2019 Team Sportswoman of the Year and many others.

But this award seems special. She remembers reading through copies of Sports Illustrated as a child and tearing out pages of her heroes, like Michael Jordan.

Later in the evening, Rapinoe will accept her award from Sports Illustrated and call out the media organization for not publishing more diverse writers and for not honoring more athletes who are women.

Award Recipients Bryce Young, Megan Rapinoe and Ally Sentnor attend the Sports Illustrated Sportsperson Of The Year 2019 at The Ziegfeld Ballroom on December 09, 2019 in New York City.
Bennett Raglin/Getty Images for Sports Illustrated Sportsperson of the Year 2019

It won't be the first time Rapinoe has used an acceptance speech as an opportunity to advocate for the things she cares about.

'Who will erase Messi or Ronaldo?'

"We have to be better. We have to love more, hate less. We got to listen more and talk less. We got to know that this is everybody's responsibility," she said in front of New York City Hall when the USWNT was awarded keys to the city following a ticker-tape parade in the team's honor.

"While I'm enjoying all of this unprecedented — and, frankly, a little bit uncomfortable — attention and personal success, in large part due to my activism off the field, Colin Kaepernick is still effectively banned from the NFL for kneeling during the national anthem in protest of known and systematic police brutality against people of color, known and systematic racial injustice, and known and systematic white supremacy," she said after accepting an award for being one of Glamour magazine's women of the year.

Indeed, the soccer star has become known for speaking truth to power, whether it be the President of the United States or the biggest names in soccer.

In a recent interview with France Football following her Ballon d'Or win, Rapinoe spoke about her wish that male soccer stars like Christiano Ronaldo, Lionel Messi and Zlatan Ibrahimović would speak out as well.

"I want to shout: 'Cristiano, Lionel, Zlatan, help me!' These big stars do not engage in anything when there are so many problems in men's football," she said. "Do they fear losing everything? They believe that, but it is not true. Who will erase Messi or Ronaldo from world football history for a statement against racism or sexism?"

Rapinoe tells CNBC Make It that this kind of silence is a privilege that many female athletes cannot afford.

"If you're a female athlete, you're in the fight, your skin is in the game," she says, explaining that when your livelihood depends on fighting for equal pay, activism seems more needed. "Whereas male athletes have a completely different situation and perspective. I understand that part of it. There's obviously a lot of money and contracts riding on their actions.

"Cristiano does a lot of charity work, I'll absolutely give him that," she continues. "But you're not going anywhere and one tweet, one show of support, can mean so much. It sets the tone for everybody else."

CNBC Make It reached out to Ronaldo's team but did not immediately receive a response.

'Honestly, I call f-----g b------t on that'

In this way, Rapinoe's call for men in her field to step up as advocates and allies is something that many may relate to. It can be difficult to ask people in positions of power to advocate for the interests of those they may not inherently understand through their own lived experience.

In fact, in the wake of the #MeToo movement, there has been a backlash among men who say they are now afraid to hire, take meetings with, or mentor, women.

In a 2018 study, 21% of men said they were reluctant to hire women for jobs involving close interpersonal interactions with men, and 27% said they avoided one-on-one meetings with women.

The vice president of the United States, Mike Pence, has said he refuses to eat with a woman alone unless his wife is present.

Rapinoe says these kinds of responses are ridiculous.

"Well, women are afraid to be raped, sexually assaulted, sexually harassed, kept out of jobs, fired from jobs, moved laterally their entire career," says Rapinoe. "Honestly, I call f-----g b------t on that."

The question struck a chord.

Sports Illustrated Sportsperson of the Year Award Winner Megan Rapinoe speaks onstage during the Sports Illustrated Sportsperson Of The Year 2019 at The Ziegfeld Ballroom on December 09, 2019 in New York City.
Bennett Raglin/Getty Images for Sports Illustrated Sportsperson of the Year 2019

"I don't want to hear that you don't know how to act," she continued. "Do you f-----g do this to your sister, to your mom, to your wife, to whomever it may be? No, you don't. You know how to act. You know how to be respectful. I don't buy that s--t at all."

She argued that when men use these arguments to avoid hiring or even being around women, they are dodging an opportunity and a responsibility to help those who have not has the same advantages as they have.

"That is such a cop out and puts all of the responsibility and emphasis on women," says Rapinoe, adding that fortunately, not all men respond this way.

What men can do

One of the easiest things men can do, she points out, is amplifying the voices of others.

"If you have some sort of platform you can support that way," says Rapinoe. "You don't have to get involved in a million charities. You can literally just re-tweet stuff. You can speak up and show support that way."

The soccer star says one of the most difficult things people in positions of power can do is call their peers in, before calling them out.

"You can signal to your teammates, to your coworkers, that whatever 'locker room talk' isn't OK," she says. "You can collect and correct your own people."

Rapinoe acknowledges that this can be challenging. "It's the hardest thing to do, but [a locker room] can be a safe space, a place where people feel safe around people who look like them, that talk like them," she says. "Where you know people and can say 'I know you're joking. I know you're a good guy, but...' That stuff is important, and it matters."

But sometimes, she says, politely inviting people into difficult conversations doesn't work, and there is a time and a place for calling people out.

"I'm not dying to call everyone out. That's really not my purpose," says Rapinoe. "But my purpose is to do what I can to make the world a better place, and often times those two things coincide."

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