Jun 28, 2023, 11:01 AM ET
The United States women’s national team will be honored for their courage in the equal pay fight with the Arthur Ashe Award during the ESPYS ceremony on July 12 at 8 p.m. ET / PT on ABC.
The award, which the team will receive one week before the Women’s World Cup kicks off on July 20 in New Zealand and Australia, honors “member or group in the sporting world who makes a difference far beyond the field of play, impacting the world in indelible ways,” ESPN said in a news release.
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The ESPYS will give three special accolades during the ceremony to honor athletes and leaders in sports for their courage, perseverance and service. In addition to the USWNT, Liam Hendriks will receive the Jimmy V Award for Perseverance, and the Buffalo Bills training staff will receive the Pat Tillman Award for Service.
In 2022, the USWNT settled their class action equal pay lawsuit against the U.S. Soccer Federation (USSF) for a total of $24 million and the USSF also committed to providing an equal rate of pay going forward for the women’s and men’s national teams “in all friendlies and tournaments, including the World Cup.”
Under the landmark agreement, the USSF became the first federation in the world to equalize FIFA World Cup prize money awarded to the teams for participating in World Cups.
USWNT star Megan Rapinoe, who spearheaded the lawsuit, said on Tuesday that the upcoming Women’s World Cup feels like a global “paradigm shift” for women’s sports.
“It is actually terrible business if you are not tuning in, you are missing out on a large cultural moment. I think we know that the bottom line, equality is actually good for business, that is something special that the women’s game has and this is the premier women’s sporting event in the world bar none and this is a paradigm shift globally, not just in the U.S,” she said.
USWNT striker Alex Morgan shared similar sentiments about the progress women are making in the sport.
“I think it just shows how far the game has come and obviously we still have a ways to go, but FIFPRO [the global players’ union] and players, individually and together [with] the teams, have been fighting for this, fighting for more equal prize money,” Morgan said.
Rapinoe added that she found it “infuriating” that other World Cup teams are still struggling for equality in pay and travel arrangements. Canada’s team, for example, is in a fight with its federation over a new labor deal.
The 28 USWNT players first filed the lawsuit in March of 2019, accusing the USSF of “institutionalized gender discrimination” toward the team. The lawsuit was filed under the Equal Pay Act and Title VII of the Civil Rights Act, and focused on two areas; equal pay and working conditions.
The suit grew contentious in March of 2020, when a legal filing by the USSF was made public. The filing disparaged players on the U.S. women’s national team, saying they “do not perform equal work requiring equal skill [and] effort” because “the overall soccer-playing ability required to compete at the senior men’s national team level is materially influenced by the level of certain physical attributes such as speed and strength.”.
The equal pay suit sustained a significant setback in May 2020, when Judge Gary Klausner granted the USSF’s motion for summary judgement on the equal pay claims, effectively dismissing that portion of the case.
He ruled that during the class period in question, each women’s player actually made more money per game than their male counterparts. Klausner did rule that the Title VII claims related to working conditions — which included use of charter flights for travel, venue selection, amount of support staff and hotel accommodations — could move forward. That aspect of the suit was settled out of court in December 2020.
FIFA announced earlier this year that the Women’s World Cup is getting $150m in prize money, a 300% increase over 2019 but still only about a third of the $440m the men got in Qatar 2022.
FIFA said it is aiming for parity between the men’s and women’s tournaments by 2027.
“I think it was just extremely motivating to see organizations and employers admit their wrongdoing, and us forcing their hand in making it right,” said Morgan said last year after the landmark agreement. “The domino effect that we helped kick-start — I think we’re really proud of it.”
The USWNT is looking to win its third straight title in the event, that runs through Aug. 20.