I’m talking, of course, about the United States Women’s National Team, who won this year’s World Cup after beating the Netherlands 2-0 on Sunday.
Megan Rapinoe’s now signature move — chin up, arms outstretched, gloriously confident, could have been interpreted not long ago as irredeemably arrogant. Instead, the team’s outsized excellence and their unapologetic acknowledgment of same, has been a thrilling development for a sport which has produced nothing but glory by any measure.
But since we’re measuring, here’s just one to consider: In the eight World Cup competitions that have been held, the U.S. women’s team has won four. The U.S. men have won none.
“The talent pool for female soccer players in America appears bottomless,” observes Moira Donegan in the Guardian. She correctly points out that this bounty is thanks in large part to an effort to include girls and women in sports. And that came by way of legislation:
"In large part, we got them through policy, in particular the Education Amendments Act of 1972. Shepherded into law by Congresswoman Patsy Mink of Hawaii, the title IX provision of the act was a response to feminists’ push to close a loophole in the Civil Rights Act of 1964 that allowed federally funded schools, colleges and universities to discriminate by sex. Title IX was intended to prohibit this kind of discrimination, and it applied to all educational programs and all aspects of a school’s operation—including sports."
Donegan walks through the history of the fight for the inclusion of women in sports, including the grotesque sausage-making that was the legislative process. “Taken as a whole, title IX’s success in creating discrimination-free educational environments for women and girls is spotty at best,” she concludes. “But the athletic non-discrimination provision has been a massive success in encouraging American girls to play sports.” And of course, earn an affordable secondary education.
So it should come as no surprise then that the women who found a home on the playing field are often interested in making sure that others are afforded the same respect.
Rapinoe, by way of example, became one of the first professional athletes to take a knee in solidarity with Colin Kaepernick. “I haven’t experienced over-policing, racial profiling, police brutality or the sight of a family member’s body lying dead in the street,” she wrote in a thoughtful post for the Player’s Tribune. But I cannot stand idly by while there are people in this country who have had to deal with that kind of heartache.”
But by no means is she the only one.
All the U.S. athletes took the field knowing their next fight will be a bloody one: Mediation related to the gender discrimination lawsuit they filed against U.S. Soccer, the sport’s governing body. Men make some three times as much per game as the women and the prize pot for the women’s team this year was $30 million, compared to $400 million for last year’s Men’s World Cup.
While Rapinoe’s pose was thrilling, it couldn’t hold a candle to the power move delivered by the fans.
When FIFA President Gianni Infantino took the stage soon after the U.S. victory, the crowd in the stadium began to boo, then chant: “Equal pay! Equal pay!”
I plan to keep that chant on a loop and play it when I need it.
The USWNT’s quest for equity is bigger than themselves, of course. But it was great to see the idea found support even in the cheap seats. Hopefully, the memory of the team's joyful excellence can make the sausage-making of inclusion palatable enough for voters and business leaders alike to stay the course.
Everything is better when everyone gets a shot at playing. And we all have work to do.