As I sat with thousands of jubilant Americans behind the goal at Groupama Stadium in Lyon, France, I was overcome with emotion. The United States Women’s National Team (USWNT) had won its second consecutive World Cup. We waited with great anticipation to watch Megan Rapinoe and the rest of the team hoist the trophy like they did four years earlier.
Before the trophy presentation could begin, FIFA President Giovanni Vincenzo Infantino had to come on to the pitch to award the player medals and personal awards. He was met with echoing boos from the sold-out stadium followed by fans chanting “Equal Pay.”
The USWNT has been paid less than the men’s national team, and has even sued the U.S. Soccer Federation for gender discrimination. It is hard to argue against them after their dominating performance in this World Cup.
The women are setting records in viewership and jersey sales. This year they set the record for goals scored in a single World Cup game, goals scored in a single tournament and consecutive World Cup wins, all while becoming world champions for the fourth time.
Despite all of this, they are still a polarizing topic in the U.S. Some Americans were unhappy with the team’s call for equal pay and even more were angered by a video of Rapinoe saying “I’m not going to the f–ing White House” if the USWNT won the World Cup.
Rapinoe is the co-captain of the USWNT. She is an openly gay women who is not afraid to speak her mind. This was brought to the forefront of Americans’ attention in 2016 when she knelt during the national anthem, joining former NFL quarterback Colin Kaepernick’s protest of racial discrimination in the U.S.
Although she no longer kneels, she expresses her protest by remaining silent during the national anthem and by not putting her hand over her heart.
This outraged some Americans and President Donald Trump who said she should win before she spoke. And win she did. Chants of “Oh, Megan Rapinoe” echoed across the stadium as she collected her Player of the Match trophy, Golden Boot, Golden Ball and the World Cup trophy.
In a later interview, Rapinoe said the White House itself was not the problem and she would like nothing more than to proudly sing the national anthem.
She said the problem is Trump’s message and she will continue to protest until she feels the U.S. is free from discrimination.
“…I would say that [Trump’s] message is excluding people,” Rapinoe said in an interview with CNN’s Anderson Cooper. “You’re excluding me. You’re excluding people that look like me. You’re excluding people of color, you’re excluding, you know, Americans that maybe support you.”
The day after the championship parade in New York, Rapinoe gave everyone watching an eloquent call to action, asking people to put politics aside to make the world a better place for everyone.
“We have to collaborate,” she said. “It takes everybody. This is my charge to everybody: Do what you can. Do what you have to do. Step outside yourself. Be more, be better, be bigger than you’ve ever been before.”
This team is special. I have been to countless soccer matches in America, Spain, Portugal and France, but I have never seen such an inspirational team. They are dominant on the pitch and they use their platform to create social change and change in the sport.
As I watched the team celebrate in front of me, covered in confetti and dressed in red, white and blue with American flags draped on their shoulders, I could not think of a time that I was more proud to be American.
One thing is certain, the USWNT has always been a beacon of hope for gender equality and social change. From its inception, Julie Foudy and company fought for better pay for the team’s players. Later, Foudy and Mia Hamm fought for the players as they worked to secure the right to sign endorsement deals.
Now, the newly crowned 2019 World Cup champions continue to use their platform as the fight for equality rages on, led by co-captains Megan Rapnioe and Alex Morgan.
The USWNT has revolutionized the game and challenged social norms. The USWNT is and will always be champions on and off the pitch.
Cover photo courtesy of Wikimedia Commons. Article photos courtesy of Grant Little.