I’m taking a new approach to commemorating Women’s History Month — with a focus on women who are making history right now.
For sure, I don’t know all the stories of the female historic icons who broke barriers, or created new pathways, or otherwise enhanced the universal community of women. But I’m feeling the need to celebrate the women who are in the midst of securing their places in the pantheon. It’s a little hard to embrace joy in this moment of war and trauma, but I am uplifted by my pride for these women who are making it happen.
I’ve been following the story of the U.S. Women’s Soccer Team’s fight to be paid the same as the male professional soccer players for three years. And finally, it seems there is a payoff which promises to change professional women’s soccer into the future. The U.S. Soccer Federation, or U.S. Soccer, agreed to pay the women players $22 million in back pay. The agreement is a victory for the 28 women athletes who sued the federation over pay discrimination in 2019. The lawsuit amplified a complaint filed three years earlier with the U.S. Equal Employment Opportunity Commission. And they went public talking about the disparity.
This is the capstone of a long and contentious slog led by members of the winning U.S. Women’s soccer team. The repeat Olympic Gold Medal- and World Title-winning U.S. Women’s Soccer Team. Three years ago, they were literally given a she–roe’s welcome in New York on the thoroughfare known The Canyon of Heroes. All the while earning far less than the U.S. Men’s Soccer Team. In a recent article, ESPN explained the many ways the women would come up short in earning power. Here’s one: the men could earn $2.5 million as a team if they qualified for the World Cup, but the women’s team would top out at $750,000 if they qualified. Please don’t get bogged down by the staggering amounts of money. That is not the point. Members of both teams play the same game at the same high level. Except — as I’ve mentioned every chance I get — the women win. Quick: can you think of any other consistently winning male professional athletes who get paid less than their male counterparts? Of any other consistently losing professional athletes — like the U.S. Men’s Soccer Team — rewarded with higher pay? I didn’t think so.
This disparity has been baked into collective bargaining agreements, and to some extent, the cultural acceptance of women as lower wage earners. The stars of the women’s team risked a lot to make their case publicly and push for it legally. And Team Captain and midfielder Megan Rapinoe recognized it as the historic achievement that it is, saying, “I think we’re going to look back on this day and say this is the moment that, you know, U.S. Soccer changed for the better.” But the settlement is for much less than the $67 million the team originally sought, and prompted a detailed angry Twitter response from former star goalie, Hope Solo. Solo also raged on her brand-new podcast that the team got “hustled” and that she felt “betrayed” pointing out that the agreement extended the player’s contracts as part a memorandum of understanding not yet finalized in the collective bargaining agreement.
U.S. Soccer Federation’s President Cindy Parlow Cone, herself a former U.S. Women’s National Team player, was upbeat telling Business Insider: “Are we going in the right direction? Yes.”
So, okay, maybe this specific story is not yet ready to be upheld as a capital “V” victory. But even if this agreement ends up being a first step to closing the soccer team equity gap — but not the last step — it is a fundamental change to the business-as-usual sexist system. What’s more, and even more significant, is that this agreement is likely to set a precedent for upping women’s pay in other professional team sports. A long overdue revolution in women’s sports and beyond. And one for the women’s history books.