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U.S. Teams Lead the Way for Equal Pay

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The Buffalo News (New York)

 

HARRISON, N.J. — Two years after they began a public fight for equal pay, and a year after they signed a new collective bargaining agreement, the U.S. women's soccer team has emerged as a new kind of role model, and a surprisingly valuable resource, for women's teams from around the world.

Canada's soccer team asked for advice on how to get maternity coverage into their contracts. WNBA players did the same when they had questions about how best to press their owners for leaguewide standards on issues like hotels, travel and trainers. And last fall, a player from the U.S. women's hockey team reached out.

Only months before the Pyeongchang Olympics, the player said, USA Hockey was still dragging its feet about marketing promises that had been made when the players used strike threats to win a major pay increase in March 2017. The team, a gold medal contender, still did not even have its own social media accounts. Could the soccer team's union recommend a marketing consultant who could do what the hockey federation apparently would not?

"I think right now there's really a women's coming-together movement, and it's happening in sport and outside of sport," U.S. midfielder Christen Press said. "And I think people all around the world are realizing how important it is to make these connections with people on the same journey as you."

So when the U.S. soccer players embraced the U.S. hockey players on the sideline before playing a 1-1 tie against France at Red Bull Arena — the reigning Women's World Cup champions meeting the newly crowned Olympic gold medalists — the hugs seemed more genuine, more heartfelt, more personal than usual.

The outreach from other athletes and teams comes in many forms, players from both teams said. It can arrive as text messages between friends or teammates from different countries, or in calls to the union itself. The soccer players can back another team's fight, or trumpet its victories, with a blast from their well-followed social media accounts.

But little by little, other female athletes around the world have started finding their voices, too.

Spain's national team rose up to demand the ouster of its coach after the last World Cup, and several prominent members of Brazil's squad quit their team last year to protest the ouster of a popular female coach in favor of a man.

Nigeria's players held a sit-in at its hotel to demand unpaid salaries and bonuses after winning the African championship. Ireland's team threatened to strike. Australia's did. And in October, Norway's players demanded — and won — equal pay with their men's counterparts.

"This really feels like a tipping point," said ESPN commentator Julie Foudy, a veteran of similar gender-equity fights a generation ago after she won a Women's World Cup.

Foudy praised the union's new executive director, Becca Roux, for empowering the U.S. players to do much of the hard work themselves, both as they negotiated an improved collective bargaining agreement and in the months since it was signed. Most members of the team serve on one union subcommittee or another, and they hold elections to pick representatives. Regular meetings are held with U.S. Soccer to ensure promises are being kept.

"I think that's probably the most gratifying part of it," Foudy said of the women's team's growth as an off-field force for its own interests."

For all the teams, though, their own careers and championship ambitions remain the priority. Sunday's soccer game was yet another chance for a swelling group of national team players to catch the eye of coach Jill Ellis as she looks ahead to the 2019 Women's World Cup in France.

Ellis has called 58 players into national team training camps since the end of the 2016 Rio Olympics, including 27 who were invited for the first time. Sunday's starting lineup included not only beloved regulars like Megan Rapinoe, Alex Morgan and Mallory Pugh, but also 19-year-old Stanford defender Tierna Davidson and 22-year-old midfielder Andi Sullivan, the top pick in this year's National Women's Soccer League draft.

Big plays still come from the most familiar faces — the Americans' goal began with Kelley O'Hara winning a foul, Rapinoe whipping in a free kick and Pugh slamming in a rebound — but tests like France on Sunday, Germany last week and England on Wednesday in Orlando are good for everyone.

"We get tested, we get vetted, we get to feel and ebb and flow of being up and being down," Ellis said.

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March 6, 2018
 
 
 

 

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