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These 4 Soccer Stars Are Making the SI Swimsuit Issue Empowering and Strong as Hell

The FIFA Women’s World Cup is just under a month away (!), and if you just can’t wait to show the US Women’s National Team (USWNT) some love, you’re in luck: four of its stars are featured in the one and only Sports Illustrated Swimsuit Issue, and one, superstar Alex Morgan, even made the cover.

Alongside Alex are defenders Crystal Dunn and Abby Dahlkemper, both heading to their first World Cup, and veteran midfielder Megan Rapinoe, the first openly gay woman to appear in the SI Swimsuit Issue. Alex herself hand-picked the other three to join her, telling SI Swimsuit, “I felt like it was important to really show the diversity of this team, as well as show the youth and the experienced players.”

The USWNT hasn’t just been in the news because of its upcoming competition. In April, the team sued the US Soccer Federation for gender discrimination, alleging that the team has been consistently paid less than the men’s team in spite of its equal role and responsibilities and its higher rate of success. (The USWNT has won the World Cup three times, most recently in 2015.) Though the players can’t speak publicly about the lawsuit at present, they’ve positioned themselves at the forefront of the fight for equal pay and equal opportunities for women in every field.

“As a female athlete, I feel like I’m put into a box, and I can’t step out of that box without being judged,” Alex told SI Swimsuit in a video interview. “I’m unapologetic in the things that I do, and the things we want to conquer, and really demanding what we deserve.”

Her teammates are on the same page. “I think it’s really important for people to understand that before I was a soccer player, I was a human being, I was a person,” Crystal said. “It’s important for people to realize, not just us, but women in general, we aren’t just our sport. We are human beings, we are moms, daughters, sisters, everything.”

“The time is now to come together to fight for what we think is fair and just,” Abby added. “Now is the time to create change, not just talk about it.”

For Megan, who co-captains the team alongside Alex, appearing in the issue had special significance. “There’s the assumption that everyone is posing for men, which I’m very much not, and I think probably the majority of women aren’t,” said Megan, who’s married to basketball superstar Sue Bird. “It’s OK to be sexy, it’s OK to wear a swimsuit, it’s OK to want to do that” – for yourself, and not for whomever happens to be looking.

The photos are sexy, but they’re also strong and empowering – qualities the USWNT has emulated since the team first appeared on the international stage in 1991 (and promptly won the World Cup). As impressive as their abs are (which is to say, very – I’m going to start eating like Megan Rapinoe right now), it’s their determination and drive that are really inspiring us.

Alex’s cover is above, Crystal and Megan’s shots are below, and you can check out Abby’s photos online. Can’t wait? We’ve included some of her best Instagram snaps, plus a few of our favorites from the others. Take a look at the the full SI Swimsuit sets of all four online or in the print magazine, on sale now.