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After historic equal pay settlement, USWNT turns attention to FIFA

Megan Rapinoe, celebrating with USWNT teammates, has been a leading voice in the fight for equal pay. (David Berding/Getty Images)

When the U.S. Soccer Federation and U.S. women’s national team players announced a historic settlement on Tuesday after a six-year fight over equal pay, they briefly celebrated before zeroing in on the next obstacle: FIFA’s unequal prize bonuses at the men’s and women’s World Cups.

The settlement laid out U.S. Soccer’s commitment to equal pay rates in tournaments, including the FIFA World Cup. That is not U.S. Soccer’s money to give away, but with the resolution in writing, the Federation affirmed it will support USWNT players in bringing their concerns to FIFA.

Both sides realize the profound challenge of taking on the global soccer behemoth, but there’s also a lot of power in being the No. 1-ranked women’s soccer team on the planet.

“I think with the players and the Federation in a place where we’re working together, it’s going to be pretty formidable,” forward Megan Rapinoe said of their case to FIFA. “I think it’s going to take aggressive and persistent and constant action on our part.”

To Rapinoe, that pressure involves persuading World Cup sponsors to invest more, or forming a federation coalition to confront FIFA.

“Clearly, they’re not all that motivated on their own to do anything, so you have to be loud and constant and aggressive in this sort of pursuit of equality,” she said. “They’re certainly in a place to do it, and it’s just a matter of them either feeling that the pressure is too much or — I don’t anticipate this, but — a sudden change of heart and mind.”

The equal pay settlement is entirely contingent on the ratification of a new collective bargaining agreement, which U.S. Soccer president Cindy Parlow Cone expects the Federation and the USWNT Players Association to finalize by March 31. At that point, they hope to have a detailed plan in place for confronting FIFA.

“It’s a little thought exercise that we have to do to make sure that the men’s and the women’s teams are being paid equally until FIFA equalizes it themselves,” said defender Becky Sauerbrunn. “We have amazing lawyers that are thinking through that and have come up with proposals that’ll be presented to the Federation.”

The players also have the U.S. men’s team on their side.

“It’s a great sign that we will come to a solution,” Sauerbrunn said.

The players expressed gratitude for Cone, the former USWNT World Cup champion and two-time Olympic gold medalist who has spearheaded U.S. Soccer’s negotiations since succeeding Carlos Cordeiro as president in 2020 after his ignominious resignation.

“On a personal level, with being a former player, this is something I have tried to resolve since the day I became president,” Cone said. “It took me a lot longer than I was expecting it to take, but we got here today and I couldn’t be more excited.”

In her opening statements on Tuesday, Cone said that she’ll “be the first to admit” the Federation’s mistakes in the past and she understands the players’ frustrations regarding equal pay.

“I know there is still a lot of work to do in continuing to build the relationship with U.S. Soccer and I am fully committed to doing so,” she said.

The Federation and USWNTPA have held 35 negotiated sessions toward a new CBA, with Sam Mewis telling reporters Tuesday that Crystal Dunn was in talks at that very moment.

Once that agreement is finalized, U.S. Soccer and the players will turn their attention to FIFA as a unified front, something that was hard to imagine just a few months ago when tensions were running high. Even two weeks ago, nine USWNT stars criticized U.S. Soccer for “[standing] by as abuse continued to occur unchecked” in a letter addressed to Cone and Cordeiro following new accusations made against former Chicago Red Stars coach Rory Dames.

“I think there’s a multi-pronged pressure approach we can put on FIFA, ultimately to do what is the right thing, but also what is the best business practice,” Rapinoe said.

They’ll have plenty of evidence to show for women’s soccer being good business. While the USWNT continues to draw sold-out crowds, the Women’s Champions League match between Barcelona and Real Madrid scheduled at Camp Nou in March sold all 85,000 tickets in three days and Canada’s win in the gold-medal match last summer was the most-watched event of the Tokyo Olympics.

“At this point, we’re not wondering if the women’s game can make money. We’re not wondering if there’s star power. We’re not questioning the equality on the field,” Rapinoe said. “I think, at this point, it’s just a willful discrimination and a willful negligence.”

Jessa Braun is a contributing writer at Just Women’s Sports covering the NWSL and USWNT. Follow her on Twitter @jessabraun.

Alyssa Naeher’s goalkeeper jersey sells out in less than three hours

uwnt goalie alyssa naeher wears jersey on the field with club team chicago red stars
USWNT star keeper Alyssa Naeher's new replica NWSL jersey was an instant success. (Daniel Bartel-USA TODAY Sports)

For the first time in the NWSL's 12-year history, fans can now buy their own goalkeeper jerseys. And while replica goalkeeper jerseys representing all 14 NWSL teams hit the market on Wednesday, some didn't stick around for long. 

Fans across women's soccer have long vocalized their discontent over the position's lack of availability on social media, often comparing the shortcoming to the widespread availability of men’s goalkeeper jerseys. And as the NWSL has grown, so has demand — and not just from those in the stands. 

"To have goalkeeper kits available for fans in the women’s game as they have been for so long in the men’s game is not only a long-awaited move in the right direction, it’s just good business," said Washington Spirit goalie Aubrey Kingsbury in an team press release. "I can’t wait to see fans representing me, Barnie [Barnhart], and Lyza in the stands at Audi!"

Business does, in fact, appear to be booming. Alyssa Naeher’s Chicago Red Stars kit sold out less than three hours after the league's announcement. Jerseys for other keepers like DiDi Haračić, Abby Smith, Michelle Betos, Katelyn Rowland, and Bella Bixby aren’t currently available via the Official NWSL Shop, though blank goalkeeper jerseys can be customized through some individual team sites. Jerseys start at $110 each.

"This should be the benchmark," said Spirit Chief Operations Officer Theresa McDonnell. "The expectation is that all players’ jerseys are available to fans. Keepers are inspiring leaders and mentors with their own unique fan base who want to represent them... I can’t wait to see them all over the city."

Simone Biles talks Tokyo Olympics fallout in new interview

gymnast simone biles on a balance beam
Biles' candid interview shed light on the gymnast's internal struggle. (Laurence Griffiths/Getty Images)

Decorated gymnast Simone Biles took to the popular Call Her Daddy podcast this week to open up about her experience at the 2020 Tokyo Olympics, revealing she thought she was going to be "banned from America" for her performance.

After Biles botched her vault routine due to a bout of the "twisties," she withdrew from the team final as well as the all-around final in order to focus on her mental health. She later reentered the competition to win bronze in the individual balance beam final.

In her interview with podcast host Alex Cooper, Biles admitted to feeling like she let the entire country down by failing her vault attempt.

"As soon as I landed I was like 'Oh, America hates me. The world is going to hate me. I can only see what they’re saying on Twitter right now,'" she recalled thinking. "I was like, ‘Holy s---, what are they gonna say about me?'"

"I thought I was going to be banned from America," she continued. "That’s what they tell you: Don’t come back if not gold. Gold or bust. Don’t come back."

Widely regarded as the greatest gymnast of all time, Biles has hinted at a desire to join her third Olympic team in Paris, though her participation won't be confirmed until after the gymnastics trials in late June. She holds over 30 medals from the Olympic Games and World Artistic Gymnastics Championships combined, and if qualified, would be a sure favorite heading into this summer’s games.

Caitlin Clark reportedly nearing $20 million+ Nike deal

Caitlin Clark #22 of the Indiana Fever poses for a portrait at Gainbridge Fieldhouse during her introductory press conference
WNBA-bound Caitlin Clark is said to be closing in on a monumental NIke deal. (Photo by Matt Kryger/NBAE via Getty Images)

Caitlin Clark is reportedly close to cementing a hefty endorsement deal with Nike.

The Athletic was the first to break the news Wednesday evening, commenting that the deal would be worth "eight figures" and include her own signature shoe. On Thursday afternoon, the publication tweeted that the deal would top $20 million, according to lead NBA Insider Shams Charania. Both Under Armour and Adidas are said to have also made sizable offers to the college phenom and expected future WNBA star.

The new agreement comes after Clark's previous Nike partnership ended with the conclusion of the college basketball season. She was one of five NCAA athletes to sign an NIL deal with the brand back in October, 2022. 

Considering Clark's overwhelming popularity and Nike's deep pockets, the signing's purported value doesn't exactly come as a shock. New York Liberty guard Sabrina Ionescu’s deal with the brand is reportedly worth $24 million, while NBA rookie and No. 1 overall pick Victor Wembanyama’s deal is rumored to weigh in at $100 million. And in 2003, LeBron James famously earned $90 million off his own Nike deal. 

Clark’s star power continues to skyrocket, with the NCAA championship averaging 18.9 million viewers and the 2024 WNBA Draft more than doubling its previous viewership record. Following the draft, Fanatics stated that Clark's Indiana Fever jersey — which sold out within an hour — was the top seller for any draft night pick in the company’s history, with droves of unlucky fans now being forced to wait until August to get their hands on some official No. 22 gear.

In Wednesday's Indiana Fever introductory press conference, the unfailingly cool, calm, and collected Clark said that turning pro hasn’t made a huge impact on how she’s conducting her deals.

"If I’m being completely honest, I feel like it doesn’t change a ton from how I lived my life over the course of the last year," she said. "Sponsorships stay the same. The people around me, agents and whatnot, have been able to help me and guide me through the course of the last year. I don’t know if I would be in this moment if it wasn’t for a lot of them."

Star slugger Jocelyn Alo joins Athletes Unlimited AUX league

softball star jocelyn alo rounds the bases at an oklahoma sooners game
Former Oklahoma star Jocelyn Alo has signed with Athletes Unlimited. (Photo by Brian Bahr/Getty Images)

Former Oklahoma slugger Jocelyn Alo has signed on with Athletes Unlimited and will compete in the AU Pro Softball AUX this June.

The NCAA record holder in career home runs (122), total bases (761), and slugging percentage (.987), Alo was originally drafted by the league in 2022 but opted instead to join the newly debuted Women’s Professional Fastpitch

Alo currently plays for independent pro softball team Oklahoma City Spark, with team owner Tina Floyd reportedly on board with her recent AUX signing. AUX games are scheduled for June 10-25, while the Spark's season will kick off June 19th. Alo will play for both. 

Among those joining Alo on the AUX roster are former James Madison ace pitcher Odicci Alexander and former Wichita State standout middle infielder Sydney McKinney.

According to Alo, the decision to play in the Athletes Unlimited league was fueled by her desire to propel women's sports forward as well as provide more exposure to a sport that's given her "so many opportunities."

"Not only to challenge myself more, but just for the growth of the game," Alo said, explaining her reasoning to The Oklahoman. "I genuinely believe that professional softball can be a career for girls."

Joining AUX is also one more step in her plan toward representing Team USA at the 2028 Los Angeles Olympics.

"I’m constantly thinking about how can I do these little things right in these four years to prepare me for the biggest stage of softball," she told The Oklahoman. "I definitely want to play in the Olympics, for sure."

Alo further expressed enthusiasm in the hope that the rise of other women’s sports, like women’s basketball and the NWSL, will push softball’s professional viability even higher.

"We’re seeing the NWSL (National Women’s Soccer League) get their stuff going, I see the WNBA starting to get hot," she continued. "I feel like the softball community is like, 'All right, it’s our turn and it’s our turn to just demand more.'"

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