U.S. Soccer guarantees equal pay to women’s and men’s national teams. It’s about time! | Opinion

·5 min read
Francisco Seco/AP

The email subject line jumped out from my crowded inbox Wednesday morning, screaming to be read:

U.S. SOCCER FEDERATION, WOMEN’S AND MEN’S NATIONAL TEAM UNIONS AGREE TO HISTORIC COLLECTIVE BARGAINING AGREEMENTS.

I read further and smiled as I learned details about the landmark deal. After a lengthy contentious battle, which included a high-profile discrimination lawsuit, U.S. Soccer and players of the U.S. women’s national team and the U.S. men’s national team finally achieved equal pay with identical economic terms. The unprecedented twin collective bargaining agreements run through 2028.

The gender pay gap was eliminated once and for all. Salaries and bonuses will be equal for the men and women who play their beloved sport with the same passion and work ethic, as well they should. Read that sentence again, slowly.

Both U.S. teams agreed to pool the still hugely uneven World Cup bonuses received from FIFA, the sport’s world governing body, and split them equally.

Consider that the American women were awarded $4 million for winning the 2019 Women’s World Cup, whereas men’s teams that lost in the first round of the 2018 World Cup took home $8 million. Men’s champion France won $38 million, which was more than the entire women’s pool for the 2019 Cup. The winner of this year’s men’s World Cup in Qatar will make $42 million, and the total prize money is $440 million.

Bravo to the men in this conversation, players such as Walker Zimmerman, who did the right thing and agreed to split the FIFA bonuses with the women’s team.

“They said equal pay for men and women was not possible, but that did not stop us and we went ahead and achieved it,” said Zimmerman, a member of U.S. National Soccer Team Players Association leadership group. “We hope this will awaken others to the need for this type of change and will inspire FIFA and others around the world to move in the same direction.”

U.S. Soccer became the first federation in the world to equalize FIFA World Cup prize money.

The new contracts also ensure equal revenue sharing, level playing venues, charter flights and hotel accommodations. Also, for the first time, U.S. Soccer will provide childcare during men’s team camps and tournaments, a benefit that had previously only been provided to the women’s team.

As I read the news on Wednesday, my mind raced back to July 10, 1999.

My daughter was in my belly when I covered the 1999 Women’s World Cup final that magical day as 93,000 fans packed the Rose Bowl and 40 million more tuned in on TV to see the U.S. beat China in a watershed moment for the sport. The TV ratings for that game beat those for the NBA Finals and the Stanley Cup final that year.

After Brandi Chastain made the penalty kick to seal the win, she dropped to her knees, roared, and ripped off her shirt to reveal her sports bra. That iconic image was the exclamation point on a summer that saw women’s soccer sell out NFL stadiums, and members of the U.S. team on the covers of Time, Newsweek and People magazines, and on late-night talk shows.

World Cup Barbie dolls and ponytail scrunchies flew off store shelves. Replica soccer jerseys came with female-sized neck and arm holes.

Then-President Bill Clinton, who attended the game, called it “the most important sporting event of the decade.”

That 1999 team inspired a generation, including my daughter, who five years later joined the Pinecrest Premier U5 rec team and went on to play 14 years of competitive soccer at her club and her high school. Through soccer she learned to be brave, to chase the ball, to work toward common goals with teammates, to stand up when you fall and to win and lose with grace.

All those life lessons will prove invaluable, as she graduated college last weekend and heads into the grown-up world. Now, she will also see that those female soccer heroes she admired will finally get the equal pay they deserve. They will serve as role models, inspiring young women to fight for what they deserve.

Watching the news with great interest was Inter Miami coach Phil Neville, the former manager of the English women’s national team and a longtime proponent of women’s athletics.

“This is huge for women’s soccer worldwide,” said Neville. “The US women’s national team are pioneers in the way they have led the way in fighting for what’s only right and fair. I’ve admired their courage to stand as a team as a rival that’s competed against them, and now someone that lives in their country. What I admired most was that they were fighting for the whole of women’s soccer, not just themselves, and now hopefully other organizations can continue to modernize their thoughts and beliefs and actions the same.”

As wonderful as Wednesday’s news was, I stumbled upon a reminder that some things haven’t changed. I clicked on the Sports Illustrated website, SI.com, to check out their coverage of the big story and just as I got to the third paragraph a pop-up ad filled my screen. It was not an ad for the women’s national team. No siree! It was an ad featuring women in skimpy bikinis promoting the upcoming SI TIX Swimsuit model event at Hard Rock Hotel and Casino.

We’ve come a long way. But there’s still work to be done.

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