It was misty and muggy in Washington, D.C. on Tuesday night as fans of U.S. Women’s Soccer filled the Audi Field stadium with rapturous cheers. But they weren’t cheering for the U.S. Women’s 2-1 win over Nigeria, and they weren’t cheering that the rain had stopped—they were cheering for the sexiest two-word term in the English language: “Equal Pay.”
Following the friendly match with Nigeria, the USWNT was joined on the field by reps from the U.S. Men’s National Team to sign a historic collective bargaining agreement—years in the making—with the U.S. Soccer Federation.
The agreement officially awards the USWNT, ranked No.1 in the world, with equal pay to the men’s team, who’s ranked No. 14. The new equal pay structure includes appearances, tournaments, and prize money for winning the World Cup—something the women’s team has achieved four times, and the men’s team has achieved never. In fact, the men’s best-ever Cup performance was when they came in third, in 1930.
Despite these statistics, the women’s team earned $4 million when they won the Cup in 2019, compared to the men’s team, who earned $5 million just for making it to round 16 of the 2018 World Cup. (In 2019, fans shouted “Equal Pay” after USWNT beat France to win the FIFA World Cup for the fourth time.) While other countries have mandates for equal base pay for their women’s and men’s teams, this new agreement, which was announced in May, makes U.S. Soccer the only federation in the world to split World Cup winnings.
In February, USWNT reached a $24 million settlement with the federation after a six-year-long legal battle that began when national team players, including Carli Lloyd, Megan Rapinoe, and Alex Morgan filed a wage discrimination complaint against U.S. Soccer in March 2016. The settlement included $22 million in back pay as well as the equal pay mandate.
“Simply put, we’re sick of being treated like second-class citizens. It wears on you after a while. And we are done with it,” Lloyd wrote in an op-ed for the New York Times in April 2016. “I understand that the men’s World Cup generates vastly more money globally than the women’s event, but the simple truth is that U.S. Soccer projects that our team will generate a profit of $5.2 million in 2017 while the men are forecast to lose almost $1 million.”
During the signing Tuesday night, the team members draped themselves with purple scarves that said “Equal Pay,” and Morgan triumphantly held up a jersey that said the same. Everyone who spoke, including Senator Maria Cantwell (D-Wash.), reiterated how fucking historic it all is. And the crowd, the crowd!, the crowd screamed “Equal Pay!” into the foggy night. And at that moment, the stadium, the soccer fans, and the country (except the trolls on Twitter) celebrated the fact that at least one organization finally achieved the equality that they shouldn’t have even had to fight so goddamn hard to get.
“I want to thank all of you guys for the support, all the social media posts, the messages of support, the chants of ‘Equal Pay’ at really funny times, showing up at our games,” Becky Sauerbrunn, the caption of the U.S. Women’s team, said to the crowd. “You guys make the difference and you are truly, truly the best fans in the world.”
Rain will come and go. But equal pay is forever.