Editor’s note: One day after this story was published, the WNT filed a civil-rights complaint against US Soccer citing violation of the Equal Pay Act. The Equal Employment Opportunity Commission will now launch an investigation.
THE GLASS LABYRINTH
Last July, when the 24 members of the U.S. Women’s National Team rolled down New York City’s Canyon of Heroes, they had every reason to believe they were on top of the world. Days earlier the team had trounced Japan to capture its third Word Cup and now the city was honoring them with a ticker-tape parade, the first ever for a women’s sports team. Their World Cup medals around their necks, the beaming players basked in the admiration of their rapturous fans. Carli Lloyd — who would later be named 2015’s world player of the year — hoisted the World Cup trophy for all to see. Alex Morgan posted photos of herself waving an American flag to her 2 million Twitter followers. Hope Solo, the edgy superstar, snapped selfies with her beaming teammates, confetti dancing around them.
In trying to overcome obstacles created by the very organizations that ostensibly serve to foster and develop their sport, the members of the Women’s National Team — along with players in the National Women’s Soccer League — must contend with systemic biases that devalue and obscure their contributions to the game. Many of these practices are questionable and untenable at best and, quite possibly, illegal.
As the most visible international symbol of women’s soccer, the WNT has readily accepted a leadership role in this fight for fair play. It puts them in the company of Billie Jean King and Venus Williams, pioneering athletes whose off-the-court endeavors rivaled their athletic accomplishments. In the case of the WNT, it is a bid to push for more equal — or, at least, less grossly unequal — treatment in a sport long dominated by men. And it’s a battle they’re waging on multiple fronts, from compensation and working conditions to representation in the sport’s decision-making organizations.