During the parade, spectators crowded the streets to catch a glimpse of the 23 members of the team and hear the speeches they gave in front of City Hall. People clamored to cheer them on while some held up signs with times for their next games, highlighting their commitment to supporting women's soccer year-round, and not just once every four years. And many were there for reasons that transcend the sport itself.
In March, the USWNT filed a gender discrimination lawsuit against the U.S. Soccer Federation arguing that the U.S. Men’s National Team, which didn’t even qualify for the 2018 World Cup and who have poorer game attendance, earn more than their female peers.
Josephine, 17, gathered near the barriers with her fellow high school soccer teammates from New Jersey. "I look up to them since I'm a soccer player, and I support them because of the things they stand for: equal pay, equal opportunity in general, especially because they are a part of and support the LGBTQ+ community. Considering that the men's team even didn't qualify for the World Cup, the fact that they get paid less isn't fair at all."
It’s difficult to compare their salaries overall since players have different collective bargaining agreements and sponsorships. But this statistic brought out by the women’s lawsuit against federation soccer gives a taste of the existing gap: if both teams played 20 non-tournament games, or “friendlies” in a year, a female player would earn $164,320 or less — 38% of the compensation of a male national team member.
Jai, 50, is vacationing from the Midwest with family; their stay coincided with the parade. But she’s clear that she’s here not so much for herself, but for her young daughter. She points to Billie Jean King and Jackie Joyner-Kersee as athletes who inspired her growing up, and says that USWNT team captain Megan Rapinoe is one of the big role models for the next generation.
"I was lucky that my profession, the military, pays everyone the same across the board,” Jai says. “But if I had any other job I probably wouldn't be getting paid equally either. One minute you're telling me what to do with my body, the other you're telling me to stay home and not get paid fairly. That's ridiculous...These soccer women have made history, and they have bills, wives, husbands, kids, families to take care of. Give them their money!
While many could’ve pointed to a difference between the revenue generated by both teams before, in recent years the women’s team contributed to nearly more than half of the soccer federation’s revenue from games — $900,000 more than their male counterparts. And more baffling is the fact that the women's games nevertheless still seem to not get as much prime airtime.
Philippe, 48, came from Brooklyn to take pictures of the parade for his son, who couldn't make it. "One thing that I was really disappointed in was that the opening ceremony should've been on one of the local channels, but they put it on the sports channel and a lot of people don't have those packages. [The women’s team] has the same strains and passion as the men, so there's no reason not to watch. I hope that my watching adds to those viewership numbers."
While the celebrations continue and the battle for the World Cup has been won, the even bigger fight for equality and acceptance persists. In her speech at the event, Team Captain Megan Rapinoe left everyone with this charge: “We have to be better. We have to love more, hate less. We’ve got to listen more and talk less. We’ve got to know that this is everybody’s responsibility... it’s our responsibility to make the world a better place.”