United States Women's Soccer Team

USWNT & Equal Pay: How a Lawsuit Win Reveals Room for Improvement

USWNT & Equal Pay: How a Lawsuit Win Reveals Room for Improvement

I’ve loved the game of soccer for as long as I could remember. When I was merely two years old, my parents entered me into a league for toddlers after watching me kick everything from old toys to my dog’s tennis balls as soon as I could walk. Fortunately, that league is what launched my passion for soccer, which continued to develop throughout my adolescence and, now, throughout adulthood. 

With an intense interest in the sport came a desire to watch and learn from others who shared the same devotion as me; personally, this was realized through my doting support of the U.S. Women’s National Team (USWNT). Throughout my childhood, I looked forward to watching the USWNT play (and win) in multiple Olympics, World Cup, and seasonal games. The walls in my bedroom, painted a strikingly-bright purple, were splattered with hand-made posters of my favorite players: Carli Lloyd, Alex Morgan, and Megan Rapinoe. I even saved up to buy a highly-coveted jersey –– one of the first ‘big’ purchases I had ever made –– after the team earned gold in the 2012 Olympics. 

To me, the USWNT not only elucidated the activity I loved, but it also demonstrated the strength, prowess, and success of potent women for one of the first times in my life. As I began to watch soccer more regularly, I realized that the men’s teams were more widely-recognized and celebrated; players like Messi and Ronaldo were saluted far more frequently and dramatically than athletes such as Marta or Abi Wambach. And, as a young girl who hoped to pursue soccer at a high level, this lack of representation was particularly heartbreaking. 

This is why, when I heard about the USWNT’s recent lawsuit win, the first time that women athletes sued their employer for equal pay and won, I was ecstatic. However, though certainly revolutionary, I believe that this success should perhaps be considered in a different light: there is still an immeasurably long way to go to achieve equal pay for women. 

It’s no doubt that February 22nd marked a historic day for the U.S. Women’s Soccer Team. After a nearly six-year battle, the players reached a multi-million dollar settlement with the U.S. Soccer Federation and received a promise that the organization would equalize pay between the men’s and women’s teams. The victory comes in the wake of the alarming, disproportionate gap between men’s and women’s soccer; the women’s team was only paid a quarter of what their male counterparts were allocated in 2016, when the lawsuit was originally filed. 

Despite the settlement, the wage gap between male and female athletes (and in general) still exists at a frightening rate in America, unearthing the severity and complexity of inequitable salaries within this industry –– and within our nation. In fact, the current pay gap supposes that a woman earns approximately 86 cents to a man’s dollar, according to data released by the Women’s Law Center in 2021. 

What’s more, the USWNT was partially successful due to relentless campaigning on a nationwide scale, earning global attention and support from major, prominent figures and organizations. Much of the team’s victory may have also arisen from their overwhelming success (and high television ratings) on national and global stages. 

Other women and female athletic teams face a similar wage problem, however, may not have the same access to resources –– or the same widespread success as the USWNT –– raising concern that their push for equal pay may be largely ignored by the public and national courts. 

Their rights, however, certainly should not be pushed to the side solely because of this. True equality results when all women –– regardless of popularity or industry –– are paid fairly, and treated justly by their employers. Expecting women to be extraordinary in order to be treated equitably demonstrates the double-standard that has been so grossly ingrained in our society since its foundation. 

Thus, though the USWNT’s win was certainly groundbreaking (and something that meant a lot to me on a personal level), it’s important that we recognize the reality that innumerous women — athletes or not –– are not being compensated fairly for their work. And they should be; we must continue to work toward such equality. 

In the words of one of my previously-mentioned favorite players, Megan Rapinoe, “We won't accept anything less than equal pay.”