On a day in early July almost five years ago, my life changed in a monumental way when U.S. women’s soccer star Carli Lloyd scored one of the greatest goals in history. Lloyd sent a long shot halfway down the field, just over the keeper’s reach and into the net. This play helped the U.S. Women’s National Team (USWNT) win the 2015 World Cup, a tournament that kickstarted the movement of gender equality in sports.
The USWNT is leading the charge in transforming the sports industry into a platform for social change. The team has brought women’s sports into the national spotlight and are using their success to fight for gender equality and inspire young girls to chase dreams they thought were impossible.
I’ve been an athlete and a huge sports fan my entire life, but I had never heard of the USWNT until the 2015 World Cup. Women’s soccer and professional women’s sports in general are barely talked about or given airtime; a USC study found that media coverage of women’s sports has hardly improved in 25 years. Due to their lack of primetime coverage, I only heard about the team from friends who played soccer themselves.
From the moment I turned on the World Cup final and watched the sold-out crowd go wild as the United States lifted the golden trophy, I was hooked. Having a team of successful, talented women I could support and look up to as role models completely changed the way I viewed myself as an athlete and as a fan of sports.
The USWNT has had enormous success since their first World Cup win in 1991, winning four World Cups and four Olympic gold medals; but they still make less money and have worse working conditions than the Men’s National Team (that has never won a World Cup or a gold medal) despite earning more revenue.
However, the players refuse to stand for this and have been legally battling the U.S. Soccer Federation for years for equal pay and working conditions.
The team’s fight has inspired other women’s sports, such as the WNBA and the U.S. Women’s Hockey Team, to demand improvements as well. With chants of “equal play, equal pay!” at every game, it is clear that the USWNT has started a movement and will not settle for inequality in sports any longer.
This past Sunday I had the chance to watch the USWNT compete in the Olympic qualifying tournament in Carson, California. I attended with two friends who play for LMU’s club soccer team: undeclared liberal arts sophomore Natalie Robinson and sophomore English major Christine Wooler.
All three of us have been heavily inspired by the USWNT’s relentless pursuit of success and their fight for gender equality in sports.
“This team is full of role models,” said Wooler. “They display determination, hard work and virtue ... they’re perfect examples for soccer players and everyone.”
Upon walking into the stadium, the atmosphere was very different from an average sports game. People of all ages, gender identities, gender expressions and sexual orientations filled the stadium, supporting not just a team but a greater movement of tolerance and diversity in sports. I’d never noticed how heteronormative men’s sporting events were until I was immersed in the alternative; the USWNT has brought together everyone traditionally left out of the sports community, and because of it they’ve developed a passionate fanbase.
The most inspiring part of the game for me was seeing all the excited young girls at the stadium cheering on the team and donning the jerseys of their favorite players. If you’d asked me not even 10 years ago to name a professional female athlete, my only answer would have been Serena and Venus Williams. Today’s children are able to look up to well-known female sports stars, many of whom are tirelessly advocating to secure equal pay as well as respect for future generations of women in sports.
“The USWNT engenders optimism for all women’s sports,” said Robinson. “More specifically, in their fight for equal pay, the USWNT has inspired and pioneered a pathway for other female athletes.”
The thousands of young girls at Sunday’s game, and the millions across the globe, could be the next collegiate or professional athletes, coaches, broadcasters, analysts or even sports writers like me.
Because of the USWNT paving the way, they will grow up in a world where women in sports are more numerous, celebrated and equally treated than ever before.
This is the opinion of Ellie Kinney, a sophomore communication studies major from Boston, Massachusetts. Tweet comments to @emkinney4 or email comments to email@example.com.