The soccer stars on the United States women’s national team know how to win. They’ve been crushing it this year at the World Cup as they fight for a fourth title. But they’re not just making bold moves on the soccer field. They’re also fighting for equity and to be paid the same amount as men on their level within the world of soccer.
The fight for equality hasn’t been easy, and USWNT still has a long way to go. But this fight isn’t new to them, and they’ve been making strides and making their voices heard when it comes to equal pay for years.
The USWNT has been working towards equality for decades. The famed “99ers” team — who won the World Cup in the eponymous year — went on strike because of the pay gap months after winning the famed tournament, USA Today reported.
During the same time period, the players were fighting for maternity leave. For years, the U.S. Soccer governing body didn’t have a maternity leave policy — The Washington Post reported that having a baby was treated as a “career-ending injury.” That is, until players talked them into instilling a maternity policy in 1999, The Post reported.
Former defender Kate Sobrero Markgraf recalled at a panel, “Mavericks: How the ’99 Women Inspired a Nation,” that having children almost ended her career, despite an official maternity policy being established a decade before she gave birth to twins. Sobrero Markgraf said that she discovered her contract wouldn’t be renewed after her pregnancy, The Post reports. She had to fight U.S. Soccer and show them that she could return to the game and “regain her fitness.”
According to Women In The World, The U.S. Soccer Federation’s salary data showed that the women players were being paid almost four times less than male players of their stature — despite the fact that the women had garnered more than $20 million in revenue during the 2015 season.
In July, the players brought their lawsuit into the “court of public opinion,” The New York Times reported at the time. They started a campaign, and had T-shirts and temporary tattoos made with the slogan “Equal Play Equal Pay.” They wore them at an exhibition match and planned to continue the campaign through the Olympics, according to The Times.
In April, almost exactly a year after the 2016 lawsuit, the women’s national team and U.S. Soccer announced that they’d come to a collective bargaining agreement, Sports Illustrated reported. Although the women gained some stability thanks to the agreement, equal pay wasn’t yet achieved. “It was the best deal we could get at the time,” Rapinoe told the The New York Times Magazine.
This March, in the months leading up to this year’s World Cup, the entire women’s national team — all 28 members — filed another lawsuit against USSF for gender discrimination, The Washington Post reported. In the suit, filed in the United States District Court in Los Angeles, they wrote: “Despite the fact that these female and male players are called upon to perform the same job responsibilities on their teams and participate in international competitions for their single common employer, the USSF, the female players have been consistently paid less money than their male counterparts."
The complaint continued, “This is true even though their performance has been superior to that of the male players – with the female players, in contrast to male players, becoming world champions.”
Things are still up in the air as far as the most recent lawsuit goes, but these badass women are clearly no strangers to fighting for equity. And, as USWNT players have seen through the years, progress takes both determination and time. We know they have the former.