In my high school, girls had a choice of three sports: basketball (half court), softball or track.
But, girls gave up most or all of lunch because the athletic hour was in the middle of the day. Boys, including those in middle school, had first dibs on the facilities.
Mom and grandma had no options when attending the same school 20 years and 45 years before. My choices were mere baby step toward equality.
Every four years when the U.S. women’s soccer team soars to the top rung of the World Cup, I’m reminded of Title IX and sexism.
I’m in the first generation to enjoy the benefit of Title IX and to witness the fight against it. I appreciate how far women’s rights have come and see how far things are.
The U.S. women’s soccer program shows the crucial role public policy and government play in ensuring all Americans enjoy equal rights.
The first women’s World Cup was won by an American team with members born around 1972, the year the Education Amendments Act was enacted.
The straight-forward law states: “No person in the United States shall, on the basis of sex, be excluded from participation in, be denied the benefits of, or be subjected to discrimination under any education program or activity receiving federal financial assistance.”
That means any public school — or school receiving federal funds — must give girls equal access to programs, including sports.
In 1971, only 294,000 girls were playing high school sports, compared to 3.7 million boys. That includes only about 700 girls in soccer.
Last year, girls participating in high school athletics reached an all-time high with 3.4 million, according to the National Federation of State High School Associations. That number includes 390,482 girl soccer players.
Girls can now be found playing football, lacrosse, tennis, golf, swimming, cross country, volleyball and wrestling. Cheerleading and dance teams are considered sports.
My high school alma mater has added a few more girls sports.
That took a federal law, more than a few lawsuits and a lot of continuing activism to guarantee equal access. This has led to higher college-level women’s competition and now reaching in the professional ranks.
Pay equity is the next frontier.
The crowd chants of “equal pay” after Sunday’s World Cup win resonate internationally because sports isn’t just about athletic ability.
Historically, sports has been a backdrop to political, cultural and social struggles.
There was Jack Johnson, the first African American heavyweight boxer who reigned during the Jim Crow era. After Johnson defeated white champ James Jeffries in 1910, race riots broke out in several cities.
Tennis great Billie Jean King took down Bobby Riggs in a highly televised 1973 carnival dubbed the “Battle of the Sexes.” University of Missouri’s Michael Sam kissed his boyfriend live on ESPN five years ago after being drafted into the NFL, lighting up sports talk radio for months.
The Olympic Games are full of political statements from countries boycotting over invasions to the black power fists raised in 1968 by Tommie Smith and John Carlos.
No one should be surprised by the backlash over the higher performing U.S. women’s team getting paid substantially less than the men.
The U.S. women’s soccer team represents the struggle women all over the world experience in getting equal opportunities, pay and treatment in the workplace.
Differences among soccer pay: $30 million prize for the women’s World Cup, compared to $400 million for men. Women soccer players earn $30,000 less in their base salary.
The bonuses en route to the World Cup are six times higher for men than women, a Guardian story revealed. The Wall Street Journal found that U.S. women soccer games brought in more money than their male counterparts: Between 2016 to 2018, women’s games brought in $50.8 million, compared to $49.9 million to men.
Even criticism about behavior on the field continues to smack of sexism. When Brandi Chastian celebrated her game-winning penalty kick in the 1999 World Cup final, more attention was paid the Nike black bra than the historic goal.
This team faces the same double standard whether for Alex Morgan sipping tea or Megan Rapinoe basking in a victory celebration. The team was slammed by sportswriters for its 13-0 win against Thailand, claiming it was overkill. This isn’t youth ball, it’s an international contest of elite players. So teams better bring their A-game.
Male athletes have done all these things. They dance after scoring, point to crowds, jeer at opponents, spike balls, plant flags, tear off shirts and even run up a score. Women are called arrogant, unlikable, unsportsmanlike and mean girls. Men get excused as being tough competitors.
In a short time, women’s soccer built a national program with a list of greats. Mia Hamm. Hope Solo. Julie Foudy. Kristine Lilly. Abby Wambaugh. Carli Lloyd. Christie Rampone. Kate Markgraf. Akers. Chastain. Morgan. Rapinoe.
I cannot name one member of the U.S. men’s soccer team. These women draw attention and money. This marks the fourth U.S. women’s World Cup (1991, 1999 and 2015). The national team has earned four Olympic gold medals since 1996 and eight CONCACAF gold cups.
How many world-dominating wins do American women need to have for parity in pay and equal treatment?