USWNT’s Fourth Star

This summer the US women’s national team defended their World Cup title winning a fourth world championship and becoming the team to hold the most titles in the Women's World Cup’s short history. Despite their success on the field, the team has dealt with controversy even before the tournament began and have continued to receive negative attention now that the tournament has ended. From political statements to contentious goal celebrations, the USWNT has become a recurring topic of debate for more reasons than just soccer. 

In their opening match against Thailand, the US scored 13 goals against their opponent, making the game a record-breaking match, and the heaviest defeat in World Cup history. Described as “merciless” and “classless” for their excessive celebrations the team was also accused of being unsportsmanlike. The level of media attention and debate over this match prompts the question: would this have received the same negative attention if it were a men’s game? While decorum and sportsmanship when playing a less experienced team are valid points for discussion, a fair amount of the team’s criticism was blatant sexism. The tendency to condemn women for celebrating or being unabashedly themselves has not been left in the past and there is no exception when it comes to male-dominated sports like soccer. In this specific case, it was exactly that. The team was essentially told to “tone it down” by multiple male sports commentators, sports analysts and by other men who took to social media to slam the team. Although female sports analysts and former players like Canada’s Clare Rustead and even US former goalie Hope Solo also denounced the US team’s actions, male athletes are rarely met with the same scrutiny and harsh criticism as female athletes. While the controversy of the US-Thailand game can boil down to celebration preferences and opinions on what is considered sportsmanship, it is hard to deny the double standard and sexism within the sports industry. 

Over the past few years, the USWNT has become more demanding with regards to equal pay. In March, the team officially sued U.S. Soccer for discrimination after an ongoing battle over unequal pay and funding compared to their male counterparts, despite having repeatedly outperformed the men's national team on the global scale. The alarming statistics are as follows: “If the women’s and men’s teams each played 20 “friendlies” (non-tournament games) in a year and each team won them all, women would earn a maximum of $99,000 or $4,950 per game while a male player would get an average of $263,320 or $13,166 per game under their respective contract formulas”. Megan Rapinoe, USWNT co-captain and World Cup top scorer, has become the unofficial spokeswoman for issues of equality greater than just pay equity.

Rapinoe was the first white athlete to kneel during the national anthem as an ally to Colin Kaepernick in 2016, not only an act of solidarity for what Kaepernick was protesting but also to spark the conversation of the mistreatment of the LGBTQ community in America. More recently, she has been at the center of the controversy between the USWNT and President Trump. Following the U.S. Soccer mandate that players stand for the anthem, Rapinoe opted to stand respectfully, but continue her protest by not singing. Trump was quick to call Rapinoe out on Twitter and called her out a second time after a months-old interview resurfaced in which Rapinoe explicitly stated, “I’m not going to the f***king White House” if the team were to win the World Cup and be invited by the president. Now that they have won, Rapinoe as well as other team members, have stood by her statement. 

E Pluribus Unum, “out of many, one”. The takeaway lesson from the USWNT is the power in unity. The USWNT has been able to accomplish and achieve their greatness by standing and working together despite any differences they may have. The team has faced repeated adversity but prevailed as a collective unit representing more than just a team, representing equality, strength and inspiration. As someone who has played soccer from a young age, it is important and uplifting to see female athletes commanding the field in more ways than one -- commanding conversations which address issues within the sports industry.