Megan Rapinoe took the U.S. women’s national soccer team’s battle for equal pay to the White House on Wednesday, declaring while on a stage with President Biden and first lady Jill Biden that, despite her enormous success with the team, “I have been devalued, I’ve been disrespected and dismissed because I am a woman.”
Speaking at an event marking Equal Pay Day, Rapinoe declared: “Despite all of the wins, I am still paid less than men who do the same job that I do. For each trophy — of which there are many — for each win, each tie and for each time that we play, it’s less.”
Rapinoe, who testified earlier in the day about gender discrimination at a hearing of the House Committee on Oversight and Reform, introduced President Biden as “one of our greatest allies.”
In his remarks, Biden spoke of how the coronavirus pandemic has exacerbated inequalities for women in the workplace, touted the benefits of the American Rescue Plan and called on Congress to pass the Paycheck Fairness Act.
“My administration is going to fight for equal pay,” he said before signing a proclamation that marked National Equal Pay Day 2021. “It’s about justice. It’s about fairness. It’s about living up to our values and who we are as a nation. Equal pay makes all of us stronger.”
The 35-year-old Rapinoe, who plays professionally for OL Reign of the National Women’s Soccer League, is an Olympic gold medalist and a two-time World Cup champion. In 2019, the last full year of international competition, she won the Golden Ball award as the best overall player at the World Cup, the Golden Boot award as the tournament’s leading scorer and was named women’s world player of the year. She is an outspoken critic of the U.S. Soccer Federation’s treatment of the women’s national team and was a major figure behind a gender-discrimination lawsuit filed against the USSF in 2019.
A portion of the lawsuit related to accusations of unequal pay compared with the American men’s team was dismissed by a federal judge last year, a decision the players are appealing. In December, the U.S. women’s national team reached a settlement with the USSF over working conditions that promised to put the team on equal footing with the men’s side in matters such as game venues, travel accommodations and staffing.
During her testimony Wednesday, Rapinoe said that “there is no level of status, accomplishments or power that will protect you from the clutches of inequity.”
“One cannot simply outperform inequality or be excellent enough to escape discrimination of any kind,” she added in her opening statement.
Rapinoe was joined in person at the White House event by another member of the U.S. women’s national team, Margaret “Midge” Purce, while over two dozen teammates were shown on a video monitor watching remotely. Purce, a 25-year-old native of Silver Spring, Md., is also the executive director of Black Women’s Player Collective, an organization founded last year with a stated goal of providing “a collective voice to the Black perspective and experience of a professional female athlete amidst the incessant and pervasive racial inequality and social injustice plaguing our country.”
With Rapinoe and the Bidens looking on, Purce was the first to speak at Wednesday’s event. She said she has been told at times that “there just isn’t enough interest in women’s sports.”
Noting that men’s sports leagues have had a decades-long head start and have benefited from “billions in taxpayer subsidies,” Purce said: “You would never expect a flower to bloom without water, but women in sport who have been denied water, sunlight and soil are somehow expected to blossom. Invest in women, then let’s talk again when you see the return.”
Jill Biden followed Purce and talked of how the pay disparity she experienced as a teacher stung her even more for the “lack of respect” than for the loss of income.
“A job is so much more than a paycheck,” the first lady said, “but our paychecks reflect how we are valued by our employers and even by our communities. … I don’t want my granddaughters to have to fight this same battle.”
Rapinoe is one of the most highly decorated members of a team that has had consistent success for years, winning four World Cup and four Olympic championships as it has outperformed the U.S. men’s national team.
“Megan Rapinoe’s testimony illustrated how all women — even World Cup champions and Olympic gold medalists — are subject to gender pay inequities,” Rep. Carolyn B. Maloney (D-N.Y.), chair of the House committee, said in a statement. “At today’s hearing, witnesses including Ms. Rapinoe testified that more needs to be done to ensure pay equity for all women regardless of race and income level. I applaud the hard work of all our witnesses in the continued fight for equality.”
USSF President Cindy Parlow Cone, a former national team player, said in a statement: “Megan has always represented the United States Women’s National Team and our country with honor and distinction. We thank and applaud Megan for being a champion for equal pay. With our new leadership at U.S. Soccer and so much to look forward to, my hope is the players will accept our standing invitation to meet and find a path forward that serves the women’s team now and in the future.
“We, too, are committed to equal pay,” continued Parlow, who replaced Carlos Cordeiro as the federation’s president in March 2020 after he abruptly stepped down amid widespread criticism of its legal response to the players’ lawsuit. “In the meantime, U.S. Soccer will continue to be a global leader in investing in women’s soccer to drive the growth of the women’s game across the world.”
Regarding the millions of dollars in back pay that Rapinoe and others have claimed they deserve, the USSF has said that a large portion of it is related to World Cup prize money, which is controlled by FIFA, soccer’s international governing body.
At the White House event, Rapinoe said: “I know there are millions of people who are marginalized by gender in the world and experience the same thing in their jobs. And I know there are people who experience even more, where the layers of discrimination continue to stack against them. And I and my teammates are here for them.
“We on the U.S. women’s national team are here today because of them.”
“It doesn’t matter if you’re an electrician, an accountant or part of the best damn soccer team in the world — the pay gap is real,” said President Biden. “And this team is living proof that you can be the very best at what you do and still have to fight for equal pay.”
Colby Itkowitz contributed to this report