February 22, 2022, will be a day forever remembered by women’s soccer fans, and luckily it’s for good reason. Today marks the day that the United States Women’s National Team (USWNT) has finally reached a settlement about its class action equal pay lawsuit with the U.S. Soccer Federation (USSF). This has been a very long journey for the players, as they have been fighting since the USWNT began for equal pay but more seriously fighting for it since March 2016 when Becky Sauerbrunn, Megan Rapinoe, Hope Solo, Alex Morgan, and Carli Lloyd filed a complaint and alleged unequal pay between the USWNT and the USMNT (United States Men’s National Team). The fight continued, but more quietly until March 2019 when the team filed a lawsuit against USSF. Still for unequal pay disputes. Just months later the USWNT would be heading to the World Cup to defend their 2015 title, but this time they had the weight of the world on their backs. Between wanting to win again and knowing that you just filed a lawsuit against the people who can so easily strip you of a job and of the ability to play for your country is an incredibly stressful feat. In this lawsuit, the women argued gender discrimination and unequal pay and working conditions compared to their male counterparts. A year later, during the 2020 She Believes Cup just hours before kickoff against their game against Japan, U.S. Soccer released a statement saying “it is undisputed that the job of [Men's National Team] player requires materially more strength and speed than the job of [Women's National Team] player” and “the job of MNT players carries more responsibility than the job of a WNT player.” This statement was blatantly sexist and wrong, sending shock waves through the entire soccer world.
The team came out for their game against Japan with their warm-up tops on inside-out revealing only the four stitched stars representing their World Cup glory. The U.S. Soccer badge was hidden. An apology from Carlos Corderio was quickly brushed off by Megan Rapinoe as she stated “We don't buy it. That wasn't for us at all. That was for everybody else.” Sponsors such as Coca-Cola rallied behind the women saying that they support gender equality and women’s empowerment and that the company will not stand for gender discrimination. U.S. Soccer also made the argument that the USWNT brings in less TV revenue in recent years than the men, while this can be debated, it is not necessarily true. In May 2020, the USWNT’s pay lawsuit was dismissed in court as a California judge took USSF’s side saying that the women actually get compensated more than the men. The team filed an appeal in July in which their lawyers argued that “the women earned more because they outperformed the men by winning more games and qualifying for and winning two World Cups from 2015 - 2019, and that despite this fact the women's performances, their bonuses were still smaller.” (Amiah Taylor, Fortune). With all this, that brings us to today. U.S. Soccer has agreed to pay $22 million in back pay to the team which will be divided in a way proposed by the players and approved in court. The federation also will put $2mil into a fund for USWNT players’ post-career goals and charitable efforts. Players will be able to apply for up to $50,000. Along with this, the federation has promised to provide an equal rate of pay between the men’s and women’s sides for all friendlies and tournaments, including the World Cup. Despite this improvement, we have not yet reached the end. This settlement is part of the hopefully-soon coming ratification of a new collective bargaining agreement by the USWNT Players Association. The settlement reached today is not perfect. The players were seeking and fighting $66mil in back pay but the $22mil given today is still seen as a huge improvement to the players involved. Alex Morgan, Megan Rapinoe, and Carli Lloyd will be the names seen most in the media, but the impact by others such as Christen Press, Sam Mewis, Becky Sauerbrunn, Crystal Dunn, as well as so many others cannot be forgotten. There were days when this moment never felt possible. March 2020 with the statement from the U.S. Soccer trying to diminish all the success of the USWNT. When the court ruling said that the women did not, in fact, make less money. All of it. This journey has been long and emotional and plain and simply insane. Today was a huge day and step forward; the work isn’t done yet, but for now, we celebrate the improvements made.