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Will Team USA’s win help level the playing field for women?

The U.S. women’s soccer team made a record-breaking victory against reigning champion Japan in the final game of the 2015 World Cup. Judy Woodruff speaks to Deborah Slaner Larkin of the Women’s Sports Foundation, and Cheryl Cooky of Purdue University about the win, and whether it will help to promote equality for women in sports.

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    The U.S. women's soccer team set itself apart last night with a historic achievement.

    What does this win mean for the future of women's professional soccer in the U.S.?

    We turn to Cheryl Cooky, a professor of women's studies at Purdue University, who has published studies on the differences between the way men's and women's sports are seen. And Deborah Slaner Larkin is the CEO of the Women's Sports Foundation, which works toward safe and equitable sports opportunities for girls and women.

    And we welcome you both.

    Deborah Larkin, to you first. How big a deal is this women's World Cup?

  • DEBORAH SLANER LARKIN, CEO, Women’s Sports Foundation:

    Well, it's a huge deal.

    This really started from 1999, when we won the second World Cup, and the next generation of girls who looked up to those stars are playing today, so it's not only those athletes, but it's the next generation of girls and boys in all sports who want to play.


    Cheryl Cooky, how do you see the significance of it?

  • CHERYL COOKY, Purdue University:

    I think of this as a tremendous moment, not only for the U.S. women's soccer team, but for all those fans out there, all the aspiring young girls and boys who want to be athletes. I think this is a tremendous moment for them.

    I think it's a tremendous moment for our culture as well, that we can all join together and celebrate the tremendous accomplishments and prowess in female athleticism that we saw displayed last night.


    Deborah Larkin, we mentioned the disparity between men's and women's soccer. How much disparity is there today?


    Oh, it's quite noticeable, quite dramatic. We can start with money. The women get to share $2 million for the winners, but in the men's world cup, the men got to share $8 million and they lost. The women had to play on a turf field, which is much more difficult to play on, and the men do not have to play on a turf field.

    And so while they play the same amount of time with the same amount of energy, the temperatures on a turf field are much, much hotter. So it's very dramatic, what the differences are. I kind of likened it to when we used to talk about that when Fred Astaire and Ginger Rogers would dance, Ginger Rogers had to do it going backwards and in heels. That's the difference.


    Cheryl Cooky, what would you add to that? And why is this disparity still there more than 40 years after Title IX, the federal law, was passed outlawing discrimination on the basis of gender in education?


    Just to add to that, I think it's interesting to look at the media coverage.

    The Major League soccer — men's soccer league in the United States just recently signed an eight-year $90 million contract with a major sports network, ESPN and FOX Sports, to have their games televised, whereas the National Women's Soccer League, the female counterpart, has no TV contract, has only three sponsors, compared to the 20 sponsors for the men's team.

    And we know that the MLS professional league has struggled in terms of generating revenue and generating a fan base. So, I think the lack of a national contract for the women's team really does impact how we can really come to know women's sports — or women's soccer, I should say, in the United States.

    How this all connects to Title IX, I think, is a really interesting question. We have seen a tremendous growth and explosion in the number of girls and women that are participating in sports. However, there are still a number of areas — and we were talking about media and sponsorship and those sorts of issues — there's a number of ways in which women's sports, both at the high school, collegiate level, as well as the professional level, still suffer from these disparities.


    Well, let me — Deborah Larkin, let me turn to you on that, not only why they still exist, but what can be done about it? We are decades past this — again, the passage of this law. What needs to happen for there to be more of a — not to abuse the term — but for there to be more of an even playing field?


    That's right.

    Well, we really have to put teeth into the law when we talk about compliance of Title IX. In high school sports, when Title IX was first passed, one in 27 girls played sports. Now the number we use is two in five.

    But I'm going to talk about it in a different way. A third of the girls who play are getting all the kind of exercise in sports they need. A third get a little. And a third get none. And it's the third that get none and a little are who we need to focus on, because they're not getting the education, health and leadership benefits.

    Girls who play sports do better in school, have aspirations for college, earn more money in the work force, are less involved in delinquent behaviors. So we need to put our money where our mouth is and put money behind girls' sports and compliance for Title IX.


    Cheryl Cooky, how do you see this question of girls and women not having the same opportunity as men when it comes to participating in sports?


    Yes, I think there's a lot of ways in which there are still many types of inequalities, some that we can see and some that we can't, some that we're aware of and some that we're not.

    If we look at simple things like when sports are played, the NBA, the professional league — and, of course, this isn't applying to Title IX, but we see this at the high school and the collegiate levels. Oftentimes, the men's teams play in the high profile, the regular season. The girls and women's teams oftentimes play in off-seasons. They have the less desirable playing time.

    So I think that there's these kinds of subtleties that are just beyond getting more girls involved in sports.


    Well, this big win for USA women's soccer certainly gives us an opportunity to look at these issues again.

    And we want to thank both of you for talking with us. Cheryl Cooky, Deborah Slaner Larkin, we appreciate it.


    Thank you. CHERYL COOKY: Thank you very much.

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