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How U.S. women’s soccer is paving the way for pay equity in sports

Fans and players gathered in New York Wednesday to celebrate the World Cup title of the U.S. women's soccer team. The repeat champions received honorary keys to the city from Mayor Bill de Blasio and expressed gratitude to their supporters and hopes for the future. Amna Nawaz talks to USA Today’s Christine Brennan about what this achievement means for the team, women’s sports and the country.

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  • Judy Woodruff:

    The U.S. women's team, World Cup champions once again, was feted with a party in New York today.

    As Amna Nawaz tells us, it's part of an ongoing celebration of its historic run and wider legacy, not just on the field, but by fighting for pay equity and for the players' outspoken role.

  • Amna Nawaz:

    Thousands of fans from around the country turned out to honor the women's team this morning as they paraded up New York's Canyon of Heroes.

    New York City Mayor Bill de Blasio presented the players with symbolic keys to the city. Team co-captain Alex Morgan thanked the crowd.

  • Alex Morgan:

    I think that we have been known as America's favorite soccer team.

  • Alex Morgan:

    But from here on out, we will just be known as America's team.

  • Amna Nawaz:

    The team won their second World Cup title in a row on Sunday, beating the Netherlands 2-0, with more than 16 million viewers in the U.S. alone.

    But the celebrations in the stands quickly turned into chants demanding equal pay for Team USA.

  • Crowd:

    Equal pay! Equal pay! Equal pay!

  • Amna Nawaz:

    In March, all 28 members sued the U.S. Soccer Federation for gender and pay discrimination. The Federation says the pay differential is based on a difference in aggregate revenue generated by the men's and women's teams.

    But financial statements from the Federation show that, between 2016 and 2018, the women's games generated nearly $50.8 million in revenue, while the men's games brought in $49.9 million, a difference of $900,000.

    A key driver of the pay gap? Much larger bonuses for the men in World Cup games. The men could earn about five times more for winning the Cup, which translates into hundreds of thousands of dollars more per player.

    And there's another gap in prize money awarded by FIFA, the global soccer body. For their victory this year, the U.S. women will get $4 million from FIFA. Last year, FIFA paid the men's winning team from France $38 million.

    Throughout their run to the championship, the U.S. women faced scrutiny and criticism, including from President Trump.

    Megan Rapinoe, the team's co-captain and top scorer, indirectly addressed some of that controversy today, including the pay gap, while the head of the U.S. Soccer Federation listened.

  • Megan Rapinoe:

    There's been so much contention in these last years. I have been a victim of that. I have been a perpetrator of that. With our fight with the federation, sorry for some of the things I said.

  • Megan Rapinoe:

    Not all of the things. But it's time to come together. This conversation is at the next step. We have to collaborate. It takes everybody.

  • Amna Nawaz:

    Let's go a little deeper now on these pay equity issues and the overall legacy of this team.

    Christine Brennan is back with us. She's a sportswriter and columnist for USA Today.

    Christine, welcome back.

  • Christine Brennan:

    Amna, great to see you. Thanks.

  • Amna Nawaz:

    So you wrote in your latest column for USA Today a bit of a prediction. You said the U.S. women's team will win equal pay from the U.S. Soccer Federation.

    Why? Why is this the moment?

  • Christine Brennan:

    Well, certainly, the P.R. tsunami that is hitting the Soccer Federation, and being in New York for the parade, as I was, and seeing the reaction, and then seeing the poor president of U.S. Soccer have to get up there, not only mispronounce Megan Rapinoe's name — that's probably not the name you want to mispronounce — but also the chants of equal pay and the boos.

    So, this notion that you are going to fight this tide of this team that is just beloved in our country, the manifestation of Title IX signed by Richard Nixon 47 years ago, the way they win, this incredible show of fearlessness and confidence, and they're going to be denied? I just don't see that happening in 2019.

  • Amna Nawaz:

    They have got the influence. They have the leverage right now.

    But you also say they deserve to be paid more than the U.S. men, but they will settle for equality. They're getting more people to watch. They're winning more. Why settle for equality? Should they be asking for more?

  • Christine Brennan:

    Well, I think it would be a start anyway, right, at least work towards that.

    They should be getting more than the men, based on The Wall Street Journal reporting now that game revenue, the women over the last three years have made more than the men's team, obviously success, off the charts, the U.S. women, winning their fourth World Cup, U.S. men not even making the World Cup last — the last time.

    And just the TV ratings. And the jersey selling being the most — the women's jersey being now the most popular and the best sales of any jersey Nike has ever had, all these things.

    But, again, yes, it should be more, but I think they would take equal, just because they have had such a long fight and such a long slog to get to this point.

  • Amna Nawaz:

    Can what they accomplish here extend beyond soccer? Will it have an impact on how other female athletes are paid?

  • Christine Brennan:

    Oh, I think so. I think we're really at a tipping point here.

    And 20 years ago today, Brandi Chastain, women's World Cup, exactly 20 years ago, that was a revelation. This is an affirmation 20 years later. These women are here to stay. I think it's not a reach to set this against the backdrop of 100 women in Congress and 25 women in the Senate, and the MeToo story, even though that's not what this is, but women speaking out and not being denied.

    So, I see this. I see this — that equal pay chant that we heard in the stands the other day in France, I can hear that at WNBA games. I could hear that at tennis matches. You could hear that all around the country and, frankly, the world over the next few years.

  • Amna Nawaz:

    You mentioned the political moment we're in, Megan Rapinoe in particular sort of participating in that political conversation along the way.

    She was famously one of the first athletes actually to take a knee in protest during the national anthem. She wrote an essay about why she did it. She said: "I haven't experienced overpolicing, racial profiling, police brutality, or the sight of a family member's body lying dead in the street, but I cannot stand idly by while there are people in this country who have to deal with that kind of heartache."

    Her influence in particular, compared to other people on the team, it's extended beyond soccer now.

  • Christine Brennan:

    Oh, she has an incredible platform now, Amna.

    And I think whatever she wants to do, including running for office someday, she can do it.

    The battle with Donald Trump, I don't think we can make a point about how little this was. It was huge. And the fact that she's fighting with the president, and then she's going out and performing on the field the way she did, that was the stuff of Billie Jean King or Muhammad Ali. It was really that amazing.

    And to see now the team say to the president, we're not coming to the White House, which they have said, that is a rebuke that is unprecedented by a national team. It's one thing for domestic league teams to not go to the White House, but to have a national team, the red, white and blue, deciding not to go visit the American president, that is absolutely extraordinary.

  • Amna Nawaz:

    You mentioned Brandi Chastain. All of us remember that moment in 1999. She has the last penalty kick against China. She wins the U.S. their World Cup title back then, rips off her shirt. Everyone celebrates. The whole crowd erupts too.

    Did it take that moment to get to this moment today?

  • Christine Brennan:

    It's a great point. Absolutely. Stepping-stones.

    Title IX being signed by Richard Nixon in June of 72. Billie Jean King beats Bobby Riggs. You have got the Atlanta Olympics in '96, the '99 women's World Cup, Serena Williams, Venus Williams, other things.

    And now here we are with this one. I think the history books will record that this is one of those great moments, not just in women's sports or sports history, but in American cultural history.

  • Amna Nawaz:

    But it took those women in '99 to build the first step to that foundation to get where we are today.

  • Christine Brennan:

    Absolutely, one generation to the next.

  • Amna Nawaz:

    Christine Brennan, thank you so much for being here.

  • Christine Brennan:

    Amna, thank you very much.

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