Who’s surprised that it took a woman with purple hair, an Olympic athlete who happens to be a lesbian, to make the men in charge sit down, shut up, and pay up? No one.
Megan Rapinoe’s in-your-face persona and her adoring fans sure got the attention of the U.S. Soccer Federation, but it was a team effort. And in the end a different player, Tierna Davidson, took a seat at the negotiating table.
Hopefully it will create change throughout the world.
Whether you’re interested in soccer or not, this is a tale that goes way beyond the sport. You know the drill: Women ask for equal pay. They’re told why they don’t deserve it. Nevertheless, they persist.
In 2016, after five players in the National Women’s Soccer League filed a federal wage discrimination complaint and got nowhere, they escalated. Three years later, all 28 players filed a gender discrimination lawsuit against their employer. Then they went out and won the world championship, their fourth world cup win. As Davidson told a Wall Street Journal reporter, the team thought the fans were chanting “USA, USA” after their big win. But the fans were shouting for “equal pay.”
“Oh my God,” Davidson said. “This is bigger than just the game we won. All of our fans are supporting what we’re doing off the field. It was really cool to see,” she said.
It Takes a Woman
The federation’s response to the lawsuit denied that women should be paid the same because playing on the men’s team “requires a higher level of skill based on speed and strength.”
Put women in charge, and we’ll find a way.
That led to the resignation of the male president, and the appointment of a former US women’s soccer player, Cindy Parlow Cone (pictured above), to succeed him. At 44, Cone set out to right the injustice, and in her first public statement apologized for her predecessor’s remarks. Then she brought together the players’ associations for both the women and men to hammer out a deal, the first country in the world to do so. “It has the potential to change how international soccer and international sports do business, and hopefully it will create change throughout the world,” Cone said in an interview after the settlement.
Cone credits the men’s players and the men’s players’ association for their willingness to make some concessions, even if it meant reducing their own paydays, to establish an equilibrium between the two teams. “To reset that relationship I think is critically important for us to be able to grow the game,” she said.
Under the new contracts, men and women players will receive identical game payments, identical revenue sharing, and identical prize money.
It’s a tale that goes way beyond the sport. Put women in charge, and we’ll find a way—even if, in this case, we have to shout and win four world championships and hire lawyers and dye our hair purple.
And we’re just getting started.
Jeannie Edmunds is the Chief Operating Officer of NextTribe, and the author of Start Me Up: Tips, Tales, and Truths about Starting Up and Starting Over.