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EDITORIAL: US women's soccer team settlement is solid starting point, more action needed

Fighting gender pay gap requires more than just financial settlements — cultural changes are needed

As the U.S. women's soccer team settles in the case surrounding gender pay equality, we need to focus on undoing barriers against women in sports. – Photo by U.S. Soccer WNT / Twitter

This past week, an incredibly important ruling came out in relation to the U.S. women’s soccer team and pay equity. The team’s players reached a $24 million settlement with the U.S. Soccer Federation after a lawsuit alleging unequal pay, with the men’s team getting more money. This settlement is a good first step — but more still needs to be done to accomplish pay equity and to fully uplift women in sports.

Pay equity deals with accounting for the varied problems that treat women and other disadvantaged communities unfairly. Pay equity, not just pay equality, is needed.

The settlement has been several years in the making since five women’s team players originally filed an Equal Employment Opportunity Commission complaint in 2016. This settlement finally begins the process of making sports treat all players — regardless of gender — fairly. 

Despite this apparent step forward, the settlement is contingent upon the players’ union coming to a collective bargaining agreement with the U.S. women’s team and U.S. Soccer Federation. 

While this might seem like a hindrance, if done properly, it can be a sign of further commitments to ensuring equity in soccer and might even serve to ignite a movement in other sports to prioritize equity in pay and treatment. 

While these are all vital steps, there are other elements that can streamline the process of working toward gender equity — so that these types of conversations and debates will cease to exist. 

We cannot feel as though we have achieved equity with this settlement and financial payoffs. We, all of us, need to further commit to creating a culture that empowers athletes and tells them that they are good enough.

Laying a foundation for future generations is essential. Megan Rapinoe, a star player of the team, discussed the settlement on the Today Show on NBC, saying that "for us, this is just a huge win in ensuring that we not only right the wrongs of the past but also set the next generation up for something we only dreamed of.”

This focus on the next generation, as setting an example and acting as a guide on how to stand up for what is right is critical. To underscore this commitment to the next generation, a part of the settlement leaves $2 million to a fund that benefits and supports women’s and girls’ soccer programs. 

Such support for future players and for changing the status quo shows that this fight is about more than money for the athletes — fighting for equal pay is challenging the cultural forces that have stymied gender progress and that have continued to relegate women to a second-class status. 

It is imperative to fight for these programs that empower the youth, but we can also take actions that support the players more immediately through media that promotes and celebrates the accomplishments of women's sports. 

While the raw talent of the U.S. women’s soccer team led to their meteoric rise in popularity, teams that might not be as talented deserve the same attention and, certainly, the same treatment in terms of equal pay.

Despite any improvements, there continues to be a disparity in the coverage of women’s sports, compared to men's. Coverage of women has often focused on their appearance or the drama of their personal lives. Men's coverage, shockingly, does not do this. When we talk about creating equity in sports, we must focus on women's athletic ability and their success — not their family life or appearance.

Perhaps one way to do this would be to hire more women in administrative roles. Women should be referees, and there should be more women in broadcasting positions. These roles would begin to undermine some of the stereotypes that have come to define the view of women's sports.

These efforts would work to undo some of the baked-in assumptions of gender and help create a fairer sports world. These elements, in conjunction with the settlements, would begin the process of treating all players fairly, across the gender spectrum.

As students at Rutgers, we can support women’s sports more. We often focus on the success of our men’s teams, but we cannot overlook the prowess of the women’s teams. The Rutgers women's soccer and lacrosse teams are all powerful and deserve our praise.

Rutgers must also commit to working with student-athletes to ensure that our teams work as best as possible for everyone and treat all players fairly. As Rapinoe said earlier, we need to fight for these things not just for us but also for the future generations. 

The Daily Targum's editorials represent the views of the majority of the 154th editorial board. Columns, cartoons and letters do not necessarily reflect the views of the Targum Publishing Company or its staff.

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