U.S. Women’s Soccer team will be at at the World Cup–the premiere global soccer event–for an opening round game against Thailand this Friday in France. *insert U.S.A. chant here* But this isn’t the only fight that these athletes have taken on recently. Every single member of the U.S. national team signed on to a lawsuit against the USSF (United States Soccer Federation) seeking equal pay and equal investment.
The 25-page legal complaint asserts, “The USSF, in fact, has admitted that it pays its female player employees less than its male player employees and has gone so far as to claim that “market realities are such that the women do not deserve to be paid equally to the men.” The USSF admits to such purposeful gender discrimination even during times when the WNT earned more profit, played more games, won more games, earned more championships, and/or garnered higher television audiences.”
You’d think the fight for equal pay would be a simple legal battle, “Hey, give us the same amount of money as the people doing the same work.” But for these women, it’s also the public opinion gauntlet of proving they deserve equal pay despite winning games and being the reigning World Cup champs. They have to point out the obvious, “The July 5, 2015 World Cup title game garnered approximately 23 million viewers, making it the most watched soccer game in American TV history. The post-Cup Victory Tour drew tens of thousands of fans to soccer stadiums across the United States, a trend that continued years after that historic achievement” but not get too cocky about it.
And in addition to waging this legal and public opinion battle, they have to keep doing the job, getting the fans, breaking the records, winning the championships. Doing the complex and demanding job of being a professional athlete while fighting for the recognition that they are worth the same investment and consideration as the men’s team.
According to an article in The Lily, Olympian Megan Rapinoe calls this balancing act the “double earn.” The Lily quotes Rapinoe as saying, “I have to somehow justify myself or convince you that what I just did was amazing. And I already just did it.”
At a time when they should be pouring every ounce of energy they have into preparing for one of the biggest events of their careers, they are simultaneously dealing with the stress and emotionally draining task of trying to get equality. It’s hard, exhausting work on top of playing an already challenging and exhausting game. It’s risky.
And not just because of what this fight takes from their games, but because of the time and strain it puts on them promoting and marketing their own sport and team–lack of marketing and promotion dollars is also a part of the inequality women face in sports. It’s hard to market the game, promote yourself, play your sport, sue for the right to be treated fairly, and win championship games. But this team isn’t backing down. *insert U.S.A. chant here*
This fight for equality in soccer isn’t just happening in the states. It’s global. It’s happening in Australia and Norway. Absent from the World Cup this year will be Ada Hegerberg, who the BBC.com called, “officially the best player in women’s football.”
Hegerberg who is a citizen of Norway has refused to play for the Norwegian national team since 2017. She plays for the French football club, Lyons, but does not participate in the World Cup because she’s taking a stand against how her country treats female players. Take that in. A professional soccer player in 2019 is refusing to participate in this global, powerhouse event, denying herself money and recognition, in order to stand up for equal rights and treatment. And this protest might be a family affair. Although it’s unclear if she was offered a spot on the team, according to Yahoo News, “Hegerberg’s older sister Andrine, who plays for PSG and has 17 national team caps, was also absent from the squad.”
I’m in awe of these courageous women. They are putting a lot on the line, risking their careers and traversing the legal and public opinion gauntlet. But they know this, know the risks, and believe it is worth it, if means that risk changes things for the girls who will be coming up behind them.