The U.S. Women’s National Team earned its second consecutive Women’s World Cup title on Sunday with a gutsy, thrilling 2-0 win over the Netherlands, the reigning European champions. It became the first women’s team in football — or as we Americans call it, soccer — history to win a fourth World Cup championship. The team’s head coach, Jill Ellis, became the first woman to win back-to-back World Cup titles. Co-captains Megan Rapinoe and Alex Morgan won the Golden and Silver Boot trophies, respectively, for most goals scored during the tournament; Rapinoe also won the Golden Ball, the trophy awarded to the tournament’s best player. The team will be honored with a ticker-tape parade Wednesday in New York City.
Sunday’s World Cup win by the U.S. Women’s National Team was a triumph not just for the glorious team at the heart of it.
It was an exclamation-point affirmation of the importance of Title IX, the 1972 federal law that mandates gender equity in school sports and has led young women, tested and strengthened on the field of play, to expect equality off of it.
It was a victory for what Pelé famously called “the beautiful game.” Countless Americans finally understood its allure, thanks to the compelling, electrifying play of Rapinoe and Morgan and their 21 teammates, whose names — such as Rose Lavelle, Crystal Dunn, Ali Krieger, Julie Ertz, Alyssa Naeher, Lancaster-born Abby Dahlkemper — now should be household names.
And it was a victory for every child who dreams of attaining glory someday by working her heart out and being who she is rather than someone else’s idea of who she should be.
As the Los Angeles Times reported, the Americans “ran roughshod over the best field in history, winning seven times in seven tries. They scored a record 26 goals, gave up just three, and in 630 minutes of soccer, they never trailed.”
Not once in seven games.
And they played with style, dogged determination, technical brilliance and impressive power, celebrating their 26 goals with joy and without regard for the tut-tutting of the decorum police.
They came roaring out of the gate June 11, thumping Thailand by a record-breaking score of 13-0 (tut-tut, said some), and refused to apologize for the margin of victory.
We might have criticized a middle school coach who ran up such a score because we are loathe to see young spirits crushed. But this was the World Cup. These are adult, professional players. And as Alex Morgan told ESPN, it would have been disrespectful to the Thai team if the U.S. team didn’t “show up and give our best and play our game for 90 minutes.” Moreover, the goal differential might have been necessary in securing the team a place in the tournament’s next stage. (It wasn’t, but it could have been.)
“We are such a proud and strong and defiant group of women. We’ve done exactly what we’ve set out to do,” Rapinoe said Sunday. “Getting to play at the highest level at the World Cup is ridiculous, but to be able to couple that with everything off the field, and to back up all of those words with performances and back up those performances with words, it’s just incredible. I feel like this team is in the midst of changing the world around us, as we live.”
Rapinoe may be right that she and her teammates are “changing the world around us” as they live.
Because of them, the issue of pay equity for women is being discussed this week around water coolers, swimming pools, coffee counters and dining tables.
In March, the members of the U.S. Women’s National Team filed a gender discrimination class action lawsuit against the U.S. Soccer Federation. They “have been consistently paid less money than their male counterparts,” the lawsuit asserts. “This is true even though their performance has been superior to that of the male players — with the female players, in contrast to male players, becoming world champions.” This is a solid point, especially now that the women’s team jerseys will bear four stars — to zero for the U.S. men.
As Washington Post sports columnist Sally Jenkins wrote Sunday, “Never again should this most magnificent of American teams be shortchanged ... the players treated as some kind of subsidized junior varsity who should be thankful for what they get — as opposed to the steel-toed legends they are.”
Even in global competitions like the World Cup — held by FIFA, soccer’s international governing body — the women players get just a fraction of the prize money awarded to male players. France, the winner of last year’s men’s World Cup, received $38 million for winning the title. The U.S. Women’s National Team will receive just $4 million.
FIFA can’t say it’s because the women fail to draw TV viewers. By its own estimate, a billion people watched the Women’s World Cup this year. Variety reported that Sunday’s final was a ratings blockbuster for Fox.
And the fans of the women’s teams — who buy official merchandise and game tickets — clearly are pulling for the women players.
As the confetti rained down on the elated U.S. players in Stade de Lyon on Sunday, American fans in the French stadium began to chant, “Equal pay! Equal pay!” And “the Dutch fans joined in, a united show of support for the women’s game at large,” ESPN’s Alyssa Roenigk reported.
We’d like to think that encouraged discussion in some living rooms, too, as young girls — and boys — asked what all those people were chanting about. Even if not, there was something momentous happening on the TV screens before them.
Twenty-three jubilant American women — athletes at the pinnacle of their sport, continuing a legacy of excellence established by Mia Hamm et al. — were crammed onto a small platform. Some of them were little girls, some of them hadn’t yet been born, when Michelle Akers led her 1991 teammates to the U.S. team’s first World Cup championship. Now they were raising their arms in unison and lifting their own World Cup trophy above their heads.
And lifting a whole lot more besides.