The US women’s national soccer team has created a tipping point on equal pay

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New York City mayor Bill de Blasio went on CNN ahead of the “ticker-tape” parade that wound through lower Manhattan today, honoring the 2019 World Cup champion US women’s national soccer team. It took mere seconds for the interview to turn into an in-depth discussion about pay equity and gender equality.

What other choice was there? It is all but impossible to separate the women’s electrifying 2-0 victory against the Netherlands at the Parc Olympique Lyonnais in France from the legal victory they are seeking at home, against a US national soccer federation that runs ostensibly separate and extremely unequal programs for its male and female athletes.

“Megan Rapinoe said this so clearly,” de Blasio said, citing one of the team’s biggest stars and most vocal advocates for equality in her sport. “This has to be a moment when we finally break through on pay equity.”

The moment indeed feels at hand, and not just because of the gender-discrimination lawsuit that 28 members of the US women’s team filed against the federation in March.

Amid the World Cup fervor, Rapinoe and her teammates have been remarkably focused, staying on message and turning their success into their best weapon in their fight for pay parity.

As de Blasio noted on CNN, “They’re champions. They bring in a huge amount of revenue for US soccer.” It’s a different kind of justification for a pay increase—not that the basic unfairness of the situation (however complicated the mechanics of the disparity may be) has gone entirely unnoticed.

“If I were president of the United States,” said de Blasio, a Democrat who in fact is running for the job, “I would insist that Congress pass an amendment to the Amateur Sports Act, requiring equal pay for men and women in all of our national sports teams. And if they didn’t do it, I’d use an executive order to have the Treasury Department enforce [it] on the US Soccer Federation, because they’re tax exempt and they’re discriminating, in effect, against women in pay.” He then went on to advocate for the federal Paycheck Fairness Act, which he said would “solve this problem all over the country,” for women in all kinds of industries.

De Blasio is, of course, a presidential longshot who will likely never get the chance to act on any of those ideas. But the parade served other political ends today, creating a backdrop, for example, for New York governor Andrew Cuomo to sign new equal-pay legislation into state law, after which he joined members of the US team on a float through the Canyon of Heroes.

As the float reached the end of the parade route, some of the team members led the surrounding crowd in chants of “Equal pay! Equal pay!” It was an encouraging sign of what may come to pass, and a reminder that—fairly or unfairly—winning remains important when it comes to fighting for what is right.

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