By Jesse Jackson
As the exhausted and thrilled U.S. women’s soccer team celebrated its victory in the finals of the 2019 Women’s World Cup, the cheers of the crowd in the Stade de Lyon soon turned into a chant: “Equal Pay, Equal Pay, Equal Pay.”
Even as they fought their way to the fourth U.S. Women World Cup championship, the U.S. team was waging a battle — in the court of public opinion and the courts of law — for equal treatment in wages, working conditions and investment in the women’s game. And if there is any justice or common sense in the team’s employer, U.S. Soccer, they will be as victorious in the quest for equal pay as they were in their quest for the World Cup.
These are truly American champions. It took immense courage — and no small amount of moxie — to file a class-action lawsuit — joined by all 28 members of the team — alleging gender discrimination by their employer only 93 days before their opening match in the World Cup. This only added immensely to the pressure on them to succeed on the field.
They would be playing for their country, for themselves, but also for all those who will come after them.
One of their leaders — Megan Rapinoe — won the “golden boot” as the top scorer in the World Cup, as well as the Most Valuable Player Award. She accomplished this even while expressing her own values. Trump criticized her for deciding not to sing the national anthem. She announced that she wasn’t interested in going to the White House. Her lavender hair symbolized her celebration of LGBTQ rights.
She naturally became a target of some on the right. She dismissed charges that she was unAmerican: “I’m particularly uniquely and very deeply American. If we want to talk about the ideals we stand for, the song and the anthem, and what we were founded on, I think I’m extremely American.”
She surely got that right. She also had the unified support of her teammates, who praised her as a “warrior” on and off the field, calling it a privilege to be her teammate.
As Christen Press put it, “It’s been beautiful to see her fearlessness as we get to the highest level and the highest stages, that she doesn’t back away, she doesn’t shy, but the opposite: She gets even bigger.”
As did the entire U.S. women’s team. Inspired by the example set by Billie Jean King and Venus Williams in women’s tennis, they took on their employers, criticized FIFA for its unequal treatment of the women’s game, and stood up for equal rights, waging a fight that would benefit their successors if not them.
As Alex Morgan, one of the team’s biggest stars stated, “My hope is that we have equality within football in my career, but I think ultimately it would be good in my lifetime. Even if I don’t reap the benefits, my hope is that the next generation’s sole focus is what it’s meant to be: And that is to play football.”
On Wednesday, the champions will be celebrated with a classic Manhattan tickertape parade through the “canyon of heroes” on Broadway. The cheers will be deafening; confetti will fill the air. Lavender hairdos will be seen throughout the crowd. And once more the chant will begin: “equal pay, equal pay, equal pay.”
Let us all pay tribute to the skill, the courage and the grit of these remarkable young women. They won the cup, even as they waged the fight for justice. They have inspired an entire generation of youngsters who watched their epic play on the field. They have earned the respect of their peers across the world.
Remarkably, the Dutch team posted its own tribute video to the American women before the final game, stating, “You showed us where dedication and ambition can bring you.”
Inspired by the Americans, the level of play is rising across Europe and across the world. And now we must all support them to ensure that they gain justice at home even as they have gained victory abroad.