Not only has the US women’s national team been wildly successful on the field, the players have also been outspoken, using their platform to advocate for equal rights for themselves and others.
The team’s efforts to get equal pay finally came to fruition this week. The four-time Women’s World Cup winners have reached a collective bargaining deal with US Soccer that gives them the same pay as their male counterparts.
But the historic milestone was not achieved just because women filed discrimination lawsuits in 2019, or complained to the federal Equal Employment Opportunity Commission in 2016. It took decades to make.
Brianna Scurry, a former goalkeeper who started with the team that won the 1999 World Cup, said the job of a national team player is first of all to be a skilled player and a great partner. But there has always been another untold component.
“Part two you have to understand that there is a standard for doing more than just being a footballer, you have to push the envelope back and forth, raising the bar in terms of equality,” Scurry said. “It was so clear we all deserved it when we were about to win the World Cup and the Olympic Games, and bring great notoriety to football in this country.”
– In 1995, before the Atlanta Games became the first Olympics to include women’s football, a group of nine players, including Scurry, Michelle Akers, Mia Haim and Christine Lilly, sat out of a training camp over a bonus dispute .
—After the team’s memorable 1999 World Cup win at the Rose Bowl, 20 of the team’s players declined to play in a tournament in Australia. This led to the team’s first collective bargaining agreement.
Akers, who is inducted into the National Football Hall of Fame, said that when the team was founded in the ’80s, players received $10 a day and had to wear their own cleats to games. He was given a hand-me-down uniform from the men’s team.
Akers said that out of necessity, it became “part of the team’s DNA” for players to advocate for themselves off the field.
“It’s also a part of playing for the US national team, you’re representing your country, you’re representing your family, your teammates, and you’re out there giving everything you can to be the best. — and he doesn’t just mean it as a football player, he means it as a person and it means how you interact and work to make the world better.”
Over the years, the fight went beyond just pay.
AB Wambach led a group of players opposing artificial turf fields at the 2015 World Cup in Canada, claiming – correct – that the men’s World Cup would never be held on fake grass. Players said playing on the field is inherently different and carries a higher risk of injury. The tournament went as planned, but the point was made for a future World Cup.
Megan Rapinoe took a knee during the national anthem before two games in 2016, in solidarity with Colin Kaepernick, the former NFL quarterback who took a knee to draw attention to racial inequality.
At a match in Texas this year, several players wore armbands that read “Protect Trans Kids” hours after Governor Greg Abbott investigated parents for demanding gender-affirming care for their transgender children, Compare it to child abuse.
One of the team’s most dramatic stands for equality came in 2016, when five high-profile players — Rapinoe, Alex Morgan, Becky Sauerbrunn, Hope Solo and Carli Lloyd — filed their EEOC complaint.
Unsatisfied with the lack of response, the women filed a gender discrimination lawsuit in 2019, months before the team went to France and won the World Cup, calling for “Equal Pay!” From fans celebrating the victory.
The US Soccer Federation settled the lawsuit with the women earlier this year, and vowed to work with both the men’s and women’s teams to equalize pay going forward. On Wednesday, the teams announced that the deals were done.
“We wouldn’t be where we are today, without all the generations of women’s national team players who came before it, decided to fight for everything better,” Sauerbrunn said. “So much credit needs to go to him and I hope he takes pride in what he did because we wouldn’t be here without him.”
Amanda Cromwell, who played for the national team from 1991–98, appearing in 55 matches, is proud of that legacy.
“I hope these women know the players who came before them, Michelle Akers, Mia Haim, Julie Foudy, they paved the way for this group, and we fought our way with some contract issues and wanted to get more. Tried it,” Cromwell said. , “We’ve come a long way, that’s what I would say.”