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Women’s Soccer Fighting For More Than Just a World Title

There’s an incredible summer blockbuster underway, filled with drama and inspiration—the Women’s World Cup. Tune in if you’re not watching! The emotions are pure and contagious. The United States Women’s National Team is eyeing their second straight and fourth overall World Championship. The U.S. soccer team has also earned four Olympic gold medals since 1996. It’s been twenty years since this team started to captivate America’s attention. Many will recall the fireworks following that win when Brandi Chastain tore her jersey off in celebration of the team’s final victory. Since then, Team USA has endured sexism and gender bias, but there are hopeful signs of progress on the horizon.

The 23 women on the roster representing the United States at the highest level of this sport are the favorites to win the 2019 title. Even if they emerge victorious at the end of the tournament, this team will still be fighting…for equality. On March 8, 2019 (International Women’s Day), all 28 members of the team filed a gender discrimination lawsuit against the United States Soccer Federation. The suit alleges that professional women soccer players are underpaid compared to the men’s team, despite greater recent success on the world stage. In its record-setting opening round win over Thailand, the U.S. team scored more goals (13) than the men’s team scored in every World Cup game since 2006, combined.

If you want to understand how bad this pay gap is, the U.S. Soccer Federation pays the men’s team more for losing (the team was paid a $5.4 million bonus for losing in the 2014 round of 16) than they pay the women’s team for winning (the team was paid a $1.7 million bonus for winning the 2015 World Cup). The women’s team fares worse than nearly all women’s sports, earning as little as $0.38 on the dollar compared to their male counterparts. And data shows that the U.S. Women’s Team has brought in more revenue for the Federation than the men’s team since 2015.

But that’s not where the sexism and gender bias end. Media coverage and the Twitterverse recently dragged the women’s team for their supersized 13-0 win in the opening round of this year’s World Cup. Armchair experts weighed in, mostly in the form of opinion pieces and rage tweets on the women’s behavior, all of which ignored their phenomenal achievement. According to Jemele Hill, “Female athletes are often judged differently than male athletes when it comes to expressing emotions on the field of play—whether it’s in exuberance or anger.” The team did their job— score as many goals as possible. Their opponent failed to accomplish its defensive objective—block said goals. Undaunted, the women’s team clapped back in the second round. Gender bias in media coverage detracts from the accomplishments of women athletes.

Another point of progress: This is the first year Nike designed uniforms specifically for the women’s team (rather than tweaking the same uniforms the men’s team wore the previous year). Speaking of gear, three members of the women’s team recognized that sponsors like Nike were cashing in on their success, so they launched their own brand, Re-Inc, with street wear in gender-neutral sizing.

Last Friday the team added one more thing to cheer about—this time off the pitch—announcing that they have agreed to mediation with U.S. Soccer to settle their lawsuit following the tournament.

Take Action! Support women athletes by rejecting and calling out sexist double standards in women’s sports media coverage.