Women’s History in the Making: Chronicling the USWNT’s Fight for Fair Pay | 2aDays

Women’s History in the Making: Chronicling the USWNT’s Fight for Fair Pay

Women’s History in the Making: Chronicling the USWNT’s Fight for Fair Pay Women’s History in the Making: Chronicling the USWNT’s Fight for Fair Pay

With Women’s History Month coming to an end, it’s significant that we pay homage to the impactful trailblazers not just during March but 365 days out of the year. To honor the closing of this historic month, let’s shed light on the U.S. Women’s National Soccer Team (USWNT) and the remarkable battle they fought for themselves and future generations of skilled athletes–a fight for equality that has implications for female athletes of all sports every day of the year.  

In case you missed it, the USWNT team has been embroiled in a series of legal battles against equal pay since 2016 against the United States Soccer Federation. During this time, they stated that the organization was responsible for unequal treatment and compensation compared to their counterparts. The team banded together to make it a priority to make their voices heard and show women of all ages the importance of dedication, being your own advocate, and fighting for what is right. 

Let’s take a look at the timeline: 

2016: The Star Five 

In 2016 five key players, Alex Morgan, Hope Solo, Carli Loyd, Megan Rapinoe, and Becky Sauerbrunn joined forces to launch a complaint on the disparities between men’s and women’s sports, specifically in the pay between professional soccer players. As reported by the Times, these players cited recent U.S. Soccer financial reports within this complaint as proof that they have become the federation’s main example of women often being seen as only “half as much–or less–than” their male counterparts from an economic standpoint. 

In response to this filing, U.S. Soccer voiced its dissatisfaction with receiving this complaint and aggressively pushed back against it. According to the New York Times, the federation later accused the USWNT and their lawyers of cherry-picking figures. One spokesman representing U.S. Soccer stated that their math was inaccurate and misleading, and later resulted in no further actions to reverse this disparity.

Related: Two Time Olympian, Brandi Chastain, on Helping Guide Women in Soccer and in Life

2017: Taking Back Control

A year after the first complaint, the team decided to take fate into their own hands and advocate for themselves. During this year, the team fired their union chief and reorganized their player’s association into active roles, ultimately easing governing issues affecting the team. These athletes made it a priority to put the well-being of the team first–multiple players went back to school to receive higher education around labor laws and public relations and voted each other as spokespeople onto negotiating teams and subcommittees. All five women and the rest of the team took fate into their own hands to inflict changes in a never-ending battle for equality. 

March 2019: A Change in Pace 

As the U.S. team continued to advocate for their rights, the pace of the ruling started to get stagnant. To reverse this, the team withdrew from their Equal Employment Opportunity Commission (E.E.O.C) and decided to up the stakes and sue U.S. Soccer for gender discrimination. Within this suit, all 28 players released a filing describing the institutional gender discrimination each player has witnessed throughout their careers. The athletes shared that this discrimination can be seen through their paychecks, medical treatment, coaching, travel to games/tournaments, and even how they train as a whole unit. This lawsuit changed the game and brought the conversation to a new platform with a new display of obstacles. 

July 2019: The Epic Chant

In July 2019, the national team’s brought their fight to the Women’s World Cup in France. Here the team experienced the public standing with them in solidarity among those who opposed their equal pay claims. The legal fight that was once showcased all over social media and the internet was suddenly in one place at one time. There was no better time for the team to have such a support system, especially as they competed and eventually defeated the Netherlands in a 2-0 victory. This moment in history proved that the women’s team was worth more, and it assisted in moving the conversation forward. 

Following the phenomenal win by the USWNT, fans in the crowd started to chant equal pay, equal pay, equal pay, as the players received this achievement. At this moment with women, children, fans, and advocates cheering them on, it would be impossible to ignore how powerful their message was and still is today. 

March 2020: Fighting Words  

During the team’s victory parade, Megan Rapinoe offered an olive branch and hinted at an idea of a settlement, upon which both parties involved agreed. U.S. Soccer shared some ugly words concerning the team’s big World Cup win–they had stated that “indisputable science” proved that these talented players on the women’s national team were inferior to men. Rapinoe later conveyed that the organization had “crossed a line completely” and moving forward this type of behavior from their employers was inexcusable and biased. In the midst of the league’s failure to manage the fallout, U.S. Soccer fired its lawyers, and Cordeiro later apologized and resigned as President. 

Related: Celebrating Women’s History Month: 5 Trailblazers in Women’s Sports 

April 2020: The Dismissal

In a court ruling in April 2020, Judge R. Gary Klausner of the United States District Court for the Central District of California dismissed the player’s arguments of being systematically underpaid compared to the men’s team. He shared that their claims of this treatment were factually wrong and transmitted that the women’s national team had earned more on a cumulative and average per-game basis than the men, thus resulting in the argument not going their way. 

Immediately following this decision, the players announced their intentions to appeal. The federation was also quick to respond, and President Cone shared that they “look forward to working with the USWNT to chart a positive path forward to grow the game both here at home and around the world.” With the federation’s newly appointed president, the odds for the women’s team seemed better but still unpredictable. 

November 2020: Small Changes = Small Victories 

In the wake of the defeat by U.S. Soccer, the five players and the federation reached a decision that would resolve its claims about the sports disparities in pay. Within the passing months, the federation took charge and removed differences in areas including staffing, travel, hotel accommodations, and venue choices. This agreement would be the starting point for more changes to occur within the sport. Cone announced that these changes were a way for the team and the federation “to find a new way forward.” 

Related: Celebrating Women’s History Month: The Top 10 Historic Moments in Women’s Sports

February 2022: Here Comes a Settlement

On February 22, 2022, the USWNT was offered a $24 million settlement with U.S. Soccer, where $22 million of it would be given to the five players behind the original lawsuit. In the fine print, this settlement will guarantee equal pay between the men’s and women’s national teams while offering millions in back pay to each player. This decision was seen as U.S. soccer admitting its fault for the disparities in pay.

May 2022: Equal, Equal, Equal

After almost seven years of fighting for their rights as individuals, players, teammates, women, and now equals, it was finally announced that for the first time in history, men’s and women’s teams would receive the same pay and prize money for appearing in matches, including the World Cup. As the changes occur, dozens of female and male athletes around the country would receive an annual pay of more than $40,000 from U.S. Soccer. In the words of Cindy Parlow Cone, “everyone should be proud of what [these women] have accomplished here. It truly is historic.” 

Although this timeline only shares a few glimpses into the team’s journey, it still highlights the  effort that went into this equitable outcome. Through it all, these women demonstrated their worth, not only to themselves, but to the world and inspired many other women to never settle for less than what they’re worth. In the process, the USWNT reminded every one of us of the value that women bring to the table, especially in sports. 

Have an idea for a story or a question you need answered? Want to set up an interview with us? Email us at [email protected] 

Image Credit: New York Post

* Originally published on March 29, 2023, by Daesha Harper

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