The joint collective bargaining agreements announced Wednesday by the U.S. Soccer Federation, guaranteeing matching contracts with the men’s and women’s national teams through their respective players’ associations, are historic. They show what is possible when two sides are committed to equity and are willing to sacrifice for the greater, long-term good.
The money part is huge, of course. Also important are things that should have been standard long ago, such as equity in travel, better and safer playing surfaces for the women, and men’s players getting the same childcare stipend women have gotten for years.
Let’s not forget what it took for the women to get here, to the point where they could not just ask for but had clearly earned the right to be paid the same for equal work. Four World Cup wins, four Olympic gold medals and FIFA’s world No. 1 ranking for five straight years. And those are only the wins.
Simply, they’re the most dominant team on the planet and have been for a generation.
The men’s national team didn’t even qualify for the last World Cup or the Tokyo Olympics. Yet the women’s fight for equal pay dragged on with much of the opposition fueled by old assumptions rooted in sexism.
The USWNT is wildly popular, with their jerseys consistently breaking sales records with manufacturer Nike. Just to spell it out, that includes sales of jerseys for the men’s team.
The fact that it took unprecedented success for the women to solidify their case that they should be paid better isn’t surprising to most women, even those of us who aren’t one of the 25 or so best soccer players in the country. For decades women in all areas have been fighting to be seen and treated as equals, from the economics of our paychecks to the depth and breadth of our expertise in meeting rooms or academia. And if you’re a non-white woman it’s even worse — just ask Justice Ketanji Brown Jackson, among myriad others.
Study after study shows that not just in the United States but globally, when women win, societies win. And it’s not just in sports.
The 50th anniversary of Title IX is next month. Gains for women in athletics have largely been incremental at best, with many believing that access was the beginning and end of the requirement and still treating women’s sports as second-class at best.
That’s despite numerous examples over decades that there’s an audience for women’s sports and a not-small number of people who follow, emulate, admire and are inspired by women and female athletes. Billie Jean King and the Original 9 knew it in 1970, and they were right.
Television ratings are up, female college athletes are signing major NIL deals. Angel City FC, the newest National Women’s Soccer League team, has 14,500 season-ticket holders and $35 million in sponsorship deals, including a jersey sponsorship worth more than nearly a third of the teams in Major League Soccer have, according to Rebecca Hendel, executive director of Endeavor Analytics.
Thousands crowded the streets near the South Carolina state capitol on a Thursday in April to celebrate the Gamecocks women after they won their second NCAA title in basketball. Multi-cultural tennis star Naomi Osaka raked in over $57 million in income in 2021, and last week flexed her muscle by breaking with IMG, one of the biggest agencies in the world, to form her own.
It’s not just in the U.S. either: the women’s version of El Clásico in Barcelona this year drew 91,553 fans, the most ever for a women’s match, a mark that was broken a month later when Barcelona hosted Wolfsburg in the Champions League semifinals.
And those are just some of the most successful women in sports. All worthy. Imagine what other athletes and programs could do with even marginally more support.
The women of the U.S. national soccer team deserve all of the flowers they are getting and will get. They knew their worth and they stood firm, even as their fight got messy and contentious. It won’t happen overnight, but their new CBA will likely revolutionize women’s sports.
If the past couple of years have shown us anything, it’s that investing in women’s sports is money well spent. For some of us that’s been clear for quite some time. It’s nice to see others coming around.