When the 2015 FIFA Women’s World Cup started on June 6, the average American would be hard-pressed to name more than a player or two on the team. Fast forward one month later, and the women’s soccer team won the championship and Carli Lloyd, Abby Wambach, Alex Morgan and Hope Solo have all become household names.
It’s rare for a team to grab the attention and support of an entire nation, but the women’s soccer team did exactly that. It was reported that the final face off was the most watched soccer game in U.S. history, with about 23 million people tuning in.
The team’s road to the finals this year was as spectacular as the championship game. The women’s soccer team did not lose a game on their journey and they did not surrender a goal in the five games leading up to the finals. In the championship game itself, the team did something unbelievable by scoring four goals in the first 16 minutes. Japan later scored a few goals, but it proved to be fruitless as the U.S. team won 5-2.
It’s usually the mark of a great sports team when they transcend being talked about in the sphere of sports exclusively to being talked about in the public space. Barack Obama called the team and invited them over to the White House, Jon Stewart conversed with Jon Hamm about the team on his show and Ali Krieger and Megan Rapinoe even appeared with the trophy on the Rachel Maddow Show. Additionally, New York City held the first ever ticker tape parade for a women’s sports team on July 10.
A women’s team hasn’t garnered this much love since the 1999 Women’s World Cup team and even other American sports success stories haven’t caught fire like this one did. There were massive viewing parties across the nation for the games and players said they felt like they were playing at home with the fan support at the games in Canada. All of the enthusiasm is important for women’s sports and interest in soccer, but the question of “what’s next?” still remains.
The National Women’s Soccer League, America’s premier professional league for women’s soccer players, pays a maximum salary of $37,800 while its male counterpart has a minimum salary of $35,125. In simple terms, the best player in the NWSL only makes about $2000 more than the worst player in the MLS. Embarrassingly, the minimum salary for NWSL player is $6,842, which is nowhere near enough for anyone to support themselves, let alone a talented and trained athlete who should be recognized for her work.
The prizes for the World Cup winners are just as unequal.
Women’s sports don’t have nearly the revenue that men’s sports do and that accounts for the disparity. But, that is less of a reason to dismiss the problem than it is an indicator of how our society prioritizes men’s sports over women’s. Sexism is at play, as many people will say they are not interested in women’s sports because they perceive women as less physical, less tough, and less fun to watch.
Sexism isn’t the only issue, though. Women’s sports don’t get nearly the same exposure and coverage as their male counterparts.
One takeaway from this World Cup experience is one similar to the morale of Dr. Seuss’ children’s book, Green Eggs and Ham; you might actually like something if you try it! This women’s team showed many that they are every bit as fun as their male counterpart and can be equally, if not more, entertaining.
Now is not a time for cynicism or worrying about the future. Rather, it should be a time for celebration: celebration for a team that won its first title since 1999, celebration for all of the players’ hard work and celebration for one of the more captivating teams over the past few decades.
The U.S. women’s soccer team seized the moment and we can only hope that it’ll lead to more exposure and support for women’s sports in general.