On Tuesday morning, Megan Rapinoe, Alex Morgan, and 28 other players on the U.S. women’s national team reached a $24 million settlement with the U.S. Soccer Federation—three years after filing a lawsuit alleging they had been grossly underpaid in comparison to their male counterparts.
In a joint statement, the organizations shared that their grueling legal battle, which began in 2016 when the teammates filed a complaint to the U.S. Equal Employment Opportunity Commission, had finally come to an end. Contingent upon the ratification of the USWNT Players’ Association’s new collective bargaining agreement, the U.S. Soccer Federation will award $22 million in back pay directly to the players and place the remaining $2 million into a fund for the players’ retirements and charitable endeavors. Moving forward, the federation has also promised equal pay for the men’s and women’s national senior teams, for friendlies, tournaments, and the World Cup.
Rapinoe told Good Morning America on Tuesday: “We’re going to look back on this day and say this is the moment that U.S. Soccer changed for the better.” She also added that Trinity Rodman, the 19-year-old reigning rookie of the year who scored the highest women’s soccer 4-year contract in NWSL history for $1.1 million, deserves every penny… and owes a lot to the women who came before her.
“The significance of this moment can’t be underestimated,” Jessica Robertson, co-founder and chief content officer at TOGETHXR (a new women’s media and commerce platform launched with Alex Morgan, Sue Bird, Chloe Kim, and Simone Manuel) told Jezebel. “This settlement, in part, is about acknowledging that these women and women’s sports have been significantly undervalued, and intentionally treated and compensated inequitably despite winning, despite revenue, and despite viewership. It’s also a profound testament to a determined, diverse and powerful collective of women advocating for themselves and not stopping … The USWNT was willing to take the cuts and bruises that come with glass ceilings, so that others may never know it. That’s profound.”
This news is one of the women’s national team’s biggest moments since its formation in 1985 and a gargantuan step forward for other women’s sports who will hopefully come to recognize equal pay as matter-of-fact for other leagues that employ cis and trans women alike. While undoubtedly a sweetly deserved victory for the athletes who have fought and clawed their way to this moment, today also serves as a bitter reminder of the moment that we live in. Looming in the shadow of the 5oth anniversary of Title IX and mere days away from the start of Women’s History Month, the dream of gender parity still appears to exist miles down the road.
Surely, $24 million is a large sum of money that will make a sizable difference in the quality of life for each individual women’s team player, and the efforts of players who had no choice but to become activists for their own livelihood cannot be understated. However, no amount of money can erase the U.S. Soccer Federation’s failure to keep its players — both youth and professional — safe from harassment and abuse by their own coaches. Nor can it save the players who were verbally and emotionally harmed due to the federation’s “willful inaction” to remove longtime NWSL coach Rory Dames, who had been accused of misconduct with youth players decades earlier, or repair the self-worth of the players who toiled in their respective leagues before this exciting new era: shoved into a pitifully underfunded corner simply because their own governing body believed that men’s and women’s players “do not perform equal work requiring equal skill, effort, and responsibility under similar working conditions.”
“We’re just at the tip of the spear for women’s sports: We’re seeing increased investment, viewership, visibility, and coverage, and we’re at the point where women’s sports are big business. The risk of not investing is now greater than that of actually investing,” Robertson told Jezebel. “But women’s sports is still a microcosm of culture, which is to say, it’s ground zero for so many ‘isms:’ racism, sexism, and homophobia to name a few. I firmly believe that women’s sports has been so far ahead that culture has had to catch up.”
For further evidence of those “-isms” Robertson mentions, just take a look at women’s pay in sports outside of soccer. The average WNBA salary (which was close to $100,000 in 2021) is just 1.5 percent of the average NBA salary (more than $7 million), according to NBCSports. In the National Women’s Hockey League, the Premier Hockey Federation more than doubled each team’s salary cap to $750,000 this year and provided full healthcare benefits including maternity leave, while the average salary on a 20-player roster still failed to meet a livable wage at a measly $37,500 per year.
The good news, Robertson says, is that change—while happening slowly—is happening: “We’re having some necessary cultural reckonings. The decision makers are changing, too. Still, we should celebrate each win, like this one, because it continues to lay an increasingly broad and deep path towards equity—however long that may take.”