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‘You just get equal’: Next generation reaps rewards of USWNT fight

Naomi Girma and the next generation of USWNT stars are benefitting from the efforts of Alex Morgan and others who fought for the equal pay day deal. (John Wilkinson/ISI Photos/Getty Images)

Naomi Girma joked about not receiving a settlement check from the U.S. women’s national team’s equal pay lawsuit.

“I was like, ‘Be grateful you don’t!’” Alex Morgan said. “You just get equal.”

Thanks to the legal efforts of the 2015 and 2019 World Cup squads, USWNT players enter this year’s tournament with something they didn’t have before: equal pay and working conditions.

“Having charter flights, having the best hotels, having all the recovery resources, having the money to provide that for players gives us the best opportunity to perform at our best and keep up with the level on the field that increases year over year,” Megan Rapinoe told reporters Tuesday. “We’re fortunate to have that and we fought a lot for that over the years. To have an environment that allows for every team in the tournament to reach their full potential, that’s what it’s all about.”

The USWNT settled its equal pay lawsuit for $24 million in February 2022. In May, the players association announced a historic collective bargaining agreement with U.S. Soccer, one that guarantees equal pay and working conditions with the men’s national team.

Now the rest of the world needs to catch up. This year, $110 million will be handed out in prize money at the World Cup. That number is just a quarter of the $440 million paid to the men’s teams in last year’s World Cup.

But it’s a big jump from the $30 million purse in 2019. FIFA also announced earlier this year that some prize money will go directly to World Cup players instead of their federations. And they’ve promised more money in the future, Alex Morgan called surprising.

“We still have a ways to go, but having them direct payments to the players is huge,” she said. “I mean, it’s a life changing thing for some of these players entering the tournament.”

Still, the fight continues, as other national teams don’t have similar deals in place to the USWNT.

“The vibe is still the same, the vibe has been the same since 100 years ago. Just wanting to constantly strive for whatever the next thing is,” Rapinoe said. “This is not a team that does any sort of resting on its laurels, it’s always about the next game, the next area of progress, the next thing we can fight for using our platform and continuing on the field to be the best team that we possibly can.

“Being one of the best teams in the world, you’re always on that razor’s edge. The on-field is the most important thing and that’s been the fuel for the team always: striving to win every single game whether in practice or on the field.”

Seasoned USWNT veterans, including Rapinoe and Morgan, do appreciate that the next generation of stars, such as 23-year-old Girma, will benefit from their victories to this point.

“Some of the players on the team now are never going to experience inequalities as a professional athlete under U.S. Soccer,” Morgan said.

Morgan will enter this year’s tournament as a mom for the first time. Already she’s the highest-scoring mother in USWNT history, having passed Joy Fawcett in February. She’s joined by Julie Ertz and Crystal Dunn in the USWNT World Cup moms club.

“I’m really grateful for the women before me that fought for mom athletes. Joy Fawcett was the OG in that, and she had way less resources and support and was able to somehow become world champion and do many great things to create the legacy she has today,” Morgan said. “I have fought hard for female athletes to get the support and resources needed to continue to stay at the top of our game after having children.”