Here’s a trivia question for you: What’s the last sports team to receive a ticker-tape parade through the Canyon of Heroes in New York City? The only team in the last seven years, I might add.
The answer is the 2015 United States Women’s National Soccer Team, which won the World Cup four years ago. They were the first Americans that weren’t part of a New York sports team to ride through the Canyon of Heroes since John Glenn and the astronauts of Space Shuttle Discovery mission STS-95 did back in 1998, and they were the first national sports team to receive the honor since the 1984 U.S. Olympic team. (They were also the first women’s sports team to ever make the parade, though, perhaps inevitably, Bill de Blasio got himself a spot on the float regardless.) The Dream Team didn’t get that honor. The Miracle on Ice didn’t get that honor. No pope has gotten that honor in 40 years. But the 2015 Women’s World Cup winners did.
ad campaign behind them, sold out crowds following them around their games in Canada, and the righteous indignation of shoving their (and their tournament’s) success in the face of recently ousted FIFA head Sepp Blatter, who had suggested that, in order to boost their sport’s popularity, players should wear “tighter shorts.” (Solo would later accuse Blatter of sexual assault. ) The 2015 USWNT not only ended up a bigger deal than the 1999 team, they outpaced nearly every other team and sport in the country. Their World Cup victory in Japan ended up garnering the highest television ratings of any U.S. soccer match ever, and more people watched it that year than the World Series or the NBA Finals. It was a big freaking deal. It felt like the prelude to a new chapter in American women’s sports. Movements have been launched with less.
breakthrough for women’s sports in the United States. But has it been?
The audiences seem to have shown up. If you’re going by television ratings — a rough measure, to be sure, but at least a noisy indicator of national interest — signs are good. WNBA ratings have gone up steadily in the last four years and are so far this year at a six-year high, and the Women’s College World Series was unquestionably a hit for ESPN this year. (Softball, revenue-wise, is now the fourth-biggest collegiate sport.) Serena Williams is by far the most popular tennis player in the world. There have even been improvements media-wise: This year’s Women’s World Cup is going to be blanketing your Fox television screens for the next month, and last month the Athletic announced that it would have dedicated beat reporters for each WNBA team, the first media organization to even come close to doing so. Women’s sports are a larger part of the sports landscape than they have ever been, and they’re growing.
receive. Seattle Storm star Breanna Stewart, the reigning WNBA MVP, will miss this entire season because of an injury she suffered playing in Europe in the off season, where she was playing because her WNBA salary was only $64,538, requiring her to supplement her income when the WNBA isn’t in season. (It should come as no surprise that this inspired the Federalist to claim that WNBA players were in fact overpaid.) Despite women’s tennis being as popular (perhaps even more so) as men’s tennis, the pay gap among professional players is almost precisely the pay gap in American society, with women making 80 cents on the men’s dollar.
gender discrimination lawsuit against U.S. Soccer, claiming dramatic disparities between women’s bonuses and the bonuses paid to the far-less-successful men’s team (which didn’t even qualify for last year’s World Cup). (They had previously alleged wage discrimination with the Equal Employment Opportunity Commission back in 2016.) The women’s league has expressed frustration about having to play on artificial turf more often, and have pointed out that the maximum salary for a women’s player, playing 20 exhibitions a year, was nearly a third of what it was for a men’s player doing the same. This was especially evident, says the lawsuit, in the year after the World Cup victory, in which U.S. Soccer brought in “$17 million in unexpected profit,” a large percentage of which came from that women’s team’s success. (2017 was the year the men’s team blew their World Cup chances by losing to Trinidad and Tobago on the last day of qualifying.)
“silent protest” throughout the World Cup, also in defiance of U.S. Soccer.) These are the biggest stars, given the biggest platform they’ve had since they created their own four years ago, screaming to be heard about injustice. It goes beyond U..S Soccer too. The highly regarded French women’s team recently had to give up their practice facilities so the men’s team could practice for an exhibition, and FIFA, absurdly, has scheduled championships for two men’s tournaments (the Copa America and the Gold Cup) on the same day as the Women’s World Cup final. It seems, somehow, to be getting worse.
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