On Sunday, the world saw an amazing feat by the U.S. Women’s National Team (USWNT), as they celebrated their fourth Women’s World Cup victory. The incredible game capped off an even more incredible month of skill, endurance, and tuning out naysayers and critics.
The feat launched an overwhelming response on the internet, including Google’s changing its home screen. The victors were invited for another ticker tape parade in New York City. At home, the Philadelphia Eagles celebrated Julie Ertz, known as resident “baller” and wife of Zach Ertz, tight-end for the Philadelphia Eagles. Across social media, fans were calling for U.S. Soccer to resolve a lawsuit with the victors and #PayThem equally to the U.S. men’s team.
Little argument exists for the USWNT to not receive equal compensation. They’ve been more successful on the field — see Sunday’s results alone — and in the ticket booth than their male counterparts. During the Women’s World Cup, U.S. Soccer agreed to mediation to resolve gender discrimination accusations. While the lawsuit is comprehensive, the crux of the negotiations will be on the pay gap experienced by female U.S. Soccer athletes.
In the wake of Sunday’s victory and the amount of attention paid to the USWNT is the importance of supporting women beyond this high-profile context. There are multiple think pieces (of which, I realize, this is one) calling for women to support the National Women’s Soccer League (NWSL). This message was clearly received, as ESPN and Budweiser both announced media and sponsorship agreements, respectively, with the NWSL. But by investing in just the USWNT and the NWSL, they’ve engaged in women’s sports myopia.
Focusing the pay gap discussion solely on these groups ignores that the pay gap applies elsewhere, too. The WNBA, the U.S.’s oldest women’s professional sports league, and WNBA players have recently gone through collective bargaining agreement negotiations that focus on increasing players’ share of league revenue. Increasing that revenue share would raise WNBA players’ salaries, decrease the pay gap in leagues overseen by the NBA, and potentially lead to more women’s basketball players having an offseason — hopefully resulting in fewer injuries, like suffered by 2018 WNBA regular season and Finals MVP Breanna Stewart. Additionally this spring, the National Women’s Hockey League players announced they’re holding out until they receive better payment and working conditions.
It’s also worth noting that the conversation about investing in women’s soccer isn’t new. After the U.S. women’s team won the World Cup in 2015 (and reached the final in 2011), many commenters similarly hailed a “moment” for women’s soccer. But there’s an important discussion about why these women. We often end up cherry-picking which female athletes deserve our time, money, and support. Former WNBA star Swin Cash said it best in a video posted by the Players Tribune in 2015: “I’m for all women; not just a few, and not just the ones that look pretty on camera.”
The WNBA has been around for more than 20 years. There needs to be real investment — of time and money — to demonstrate to networks and sponsors that there is interest in all women’s sports. The four-time WNBA champion Minnesota Lynx averaged 10,000 fans in 2017, a high for the WNBA, and negotiated a longer broadcast deal with their regional partner in 2018, the longest deal in the WNBA.
Philadelphia currently doesn’t have any women’s professional teams, but that doesn’t mean we’re off the hook. Ertz and Carli Lloyd aren’t the only members of the USWNT with Philly connections. Current national darling Megan Rapinoe played for the now-defunct Philadelphia Independence in the Women’s Professional Soccer league.
And let’s talk college. We have the Big 5, who collectively sponsor 60 women’s teams in the area. This doesn’t even consider the number of local Division III colleges. Many of these events charge minimal — if any — ticket price for women’s games. And a very important, but necessary disclaimer: You’re not just showing up to support women’s sports; you’re showing up because women are great athletes.
In my research about how allyship manifests in sports, I’ve seen how individuals’ awareness of gender issues in sport is translated into action, specifically by determining how and where individuals believe they can make tangible differences, and choosing to act. As with anything, if change is going to happen, it cannot just be localized. Structural change happens when use our collective power to show up for everyone. If we learned anything from the USWNT, it’s the power of teamwork in working together to achieve a collective goal.
Caroline Heffernan is an assistant professor of instruction in the Department of Sport and Recreation Management at Temple University’s School of Sport Tourism & Hospitality Management.