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The U.S. Women's Soccer Team Struggle For Equal Pay Featured In New 'LFG' Documentary

Megan Rapinoe and her teammates on the U.S. Women's National Soccer Team filed a lawsuit in 2019 over equal pay.
Megan Rapinoe and her teammates on the U.S. Women's National Soccer Team filed a lawsuit in 2019 over equal pay.

Updated June 29, 2021 at 4:59 PM ET

As the U.S. Women's National Soccer Team clinched a victory in the 2019 World Cup, fans erupted in an unexpected chant: "Equal pay. Equal pay. Equal pay."

With four World Cup titles and four Olympic gold medals, the USWNT is one of the most accomplished and successful teams in the history of international sports. But despite its overwhelming dominance, the team is paid considerably less than the men's national team. Per regular season game, players on the women's team earn 89 cents to their male counterparts' dollar, and the men make almost double in bonuses for World Cup appearances.

A few months before its World Cup win, the USWNT took its fight for fair pay to its employers. More than 20 players filed a gender discrimination lawsuit against the U.S. Soccer Federation, seeking equitable pay and treatment compared to the men's team. But in May 2020, the majority of the suit was dismissed by federal judges who argued that the players were being paid according to the terms of the contracts they had signed.

This legal battle is chronicled in the new documentary from filmmakers Andrea Nix Fine and Sean Fine called LFG — an abbreviation of the team's rallying cry. Nix Fine says LFG is a story that will resonate with a lot of women out there.

Did U.S. Soccer ever offer the women's team the same deal, line for line? And the answer's no.

"They're going to feel like, 'Oh, been there, felt that' — the lack of value, the lack of respect," she says. Nix Fine hopes that telling the story of players like Megan Rapinoe and Jessica McDonald will clear up misconceptions about the lawsuit and highlight the national fight for financial equity.

NPR's Ailsa Chang spoke to Andrea Nix Fine and 2019 World Cup champion Jessica McDonald about working multiple jobs as a single mom, pressure to sign the agreement with the U.S. Soccer Federation and the team's ongoing appeal. Listen in the audio player above and read on for highlights of their conversation.


Interview Highlights

On working multiple jobs to make ends meet

Jessica McDonald: A lot of us female athletes, we work multiple jobs, and that's been kind of [accepted] in our society. But once you see it, I feel like it's so much more eye-opening; I'm showing people I barely had a meal in a day because I'm going from literally [team] training to giving a public speech to going to train kids to another appearance — and this is all in one day.

Especially me being a single mom, just handling everything on my own with my kid, if you're a parent, you know how hard that is. Even if you're in a partnership, it's hard. And so for me to be able to do everything that I'm able to do, I'm grateful, but it's also very eye-opening for everybody out there and just showing how unfair the pay really is when I'm over here working multiple jobs in the middle of my season.

On the Federal District Court's argument that the players had consciously agreed to the terms of their contracts

McDonald: When the original agreement was signed, [as a new player] I heard different things, obviously, on my side of things with my team and those who are working with us. It's almost as if we got bullied into these contracts that we're in right now.

Andrea Nix Fine: We'd been talking to a number of the players and Jessica, I think you all were so stunned — as were, I think, everybody — about how could the judge come in to that and reach that conclusion with that argument. And I think the takeaway, which is really fundamentally why the appeal continues, is that it's not the fact that "Hey, you got a deal, you accepted it, now you don't like it." The answer that really needs to be looked at: Did U.S. Soccer ever offer the women's team the same deal, line for line? And the answer's no. That's where the discrimination happens. They were actually never offered that deal, and that is the deal they continue to fight for, and that's why there is still [an] appeal.

On the absence of interviews with the U.S. Soccer Federation

Nix Fine: We extended the opportunity for the Federation to participate in an on-camera interview, and right in the beginning of the film, we let it be known that they chose to decline. We agreed and engaged with conversations with them off-camera to make sure we understood their position on the equal pay dispute. And we spent two years researching court records and public documents and [collective bargaining] agreements.

We did approach them, and we gave them ample time to participate. That was their decision, and they declined. And we felt it was unfortunate.

On the impact the USWNT's fight for equal pay has beyond this case

McDonald: Right now, this is something historical; this is a movement. This is a movement for — I always say this, but — all the little girls who want to be in our shoes one day because they're going to deserve it. All the women who are putting in the time, who are putting in the effort and kicking ass at their job. There's [no one] more deserving than, if not equal, than more than what their male counterparts are receiving. And so at the end of the day, this is all about fairness, fairness for everybody. And so women out there, we're badass and we're going to continue to fight.

Copyright 2021 NPR. To see more, visit https://www.npr.org.