USWNT expands activism to include racial issues and social justice

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The US women’s national team wish they could just focus on soccer.

They are arguably the most dominant powerhouse in sports history, as their four World Cup titles and an astonishingly constant win rate of around 80% over 35 years prove. Despite all of their on-field struggles, they are equally known for their tenacity off the field.

Whether it is about suing your boss for equal pay or almost ending the entire national team program as part of a boycott for equal treatment – and inspiring other women in the process – the focus of the USWNT has always gone far beyond football.

But it was less of a choice than a necessity.

“It’s a running joke – we say, ‘Yeah, we’d love to retire young with millions and millions in the bank,” defense attorney Crystal Dunn told Emox News. “But we all know that many of us are As much as we love football, we do a lot on the side to maintain and earn an even bigger income. That is the unfortunate status we are in right now. Women have to work extremely hard and also have a second and third job to to have the feeling that they can retire the way they want. “

Regardless of whether the players wanted to be change agents and activists, that’s what the women in the USWNT became by simply asking to be treated fairly. For all their success over the years, they haven’t had the luxury of just enjoying it as their male counterparts do.

It started in the 1990s when players like Mia Hamm and Julie Foudy threatened to give up their careers if not everyone on the team could earn a living wage. Otherwise, many USWNT players would have been forced to quit football and get “real” paid jobs. This willingness to demand change has continued since then and is deeply embedded in the team’s culture.

“When I was a young player on the national team, I always had the infectious feeling that the veterans are not going to put up with anything,” said Dunn. “I felt that at a very young age on this team, the players are ready to stand up for what they think is right. They will protect the players and make sure the players have what they need. “

USWNT expands his activism struggle

The USWNT has long fought against sexism and discrimination. For the past year it has turned its attention to racial equality. (Photo by Rich Graessle / Icon Sportswire via Getty Images)

For a team as open as the USWNT dealt with hot button issues, there was one blatant omission: racing.

It was only after the police murder of George Floyd last summer that the USWNT finally treated racism alongside sexism as an issue worth addressing. When the games resumed at the end of 2020, all players wore training jackets labeled “Black Lives Matter” and made a joint statement, in part which said: “We protest against the racist infrastructures that black and brown people are not the same Opportunities offer Fulfill their dreams, even if you play in this team. “

However, team captain Becky Sauerbrunn was reluctant to give himself and her team too much credit.

“I actually got into conflict that it took us so long as a national team to get to this point,” she recently admitted, “because we’ve fought for so many things for so long: for gender equality, for the Equality of wages. ” We wear jerseys for LGBTQ, for the military. We never came together as a group to fight for social justice and racial inequality [sic]. ”

In some ways, the delay might not be that surprising.

The USWNT’s earliest activism may have inspired other female athletes to demand better working conditions and lay vital foundations for generations to come, but it started as an immediate necessity. All the players had the same problem: winning alone wasn’t enough to prove that the women deserved the same recognition as the men. The burden was on women to force the issue.

Megan Rapinoe called it “double-earn” – twice as much work for the same rewards.

“I have to do everything I have to do on the field. Then I have to do everything else to prove to you that that’s enough, “she said before the 2019 World Cup.

But with a few very notable exceptions, including Hall of Fame goalkeeper Briana Scurry, the USWNT has historically been predominantly white. While sexism was a common experience, racism was not discussed.

Cindy Parlow Cone, current president of US football and a player on the team that won the 1999 World Cup, now complains, “I never fully understood the struggles my black and brown teammates went through every day because we never talked about them to have . “It was this realization that led her to make changes to the association, she said.

In the past, USWNT players have spoken about it individually – especially Rapinoe, who started kneeling during the national anthem in 2016 – but it was never a joint team effort. But doing this together is the only way – after all, combating racial oppression cannot be the responsibility of the oppressed alone.

For Sauerbrunn, the president of the USWNT union who oversees the team’s business activities and advocacy work, the goal is to get everyone involved, even if the players otherwise have to balance any legal work with football.

Team captain and USWNT union president Becky Sauerbrunn (foreground) is aware of the influence players can have on issues such as social justice. (Photo by Brad Smith / ISI Photos / Getty Images)

“In the Players Association with the national team, the players who are committed and want to give this energy and this time, we want to bring them to their knees,” Sauerbrunn told Emox News. “But we also understand that when you need to focus more on yourself and more on football, that’s exactly what you need to do.

“When it comes to social justice, we need more people than all hands on deck, and that’s why we try to get people to get involved in things they are really passionate about.”

It didn’t always turn out that way, however.

While most players kneeled during the national anthem ahead of the Games earlier this year to recognize an America that doesn’t always treat white and black people equally, some stood. It was a rare case in which the USWNT appeared inconsistent.

But the players insisted they are on the same page behind the scenes to find a way to tackle racial injustice, and even if they did not ultimately agree on the protest, they are making progress in targeting it.

“Everyone knows where this team is going and how committed we are,” said Rapinoe. “That is our focus: continue to hold talks and open them up.”

A new face for the USWNT

The world is changing and so is the USWNT.

While the team is still mostly white, it has also become more racially and ethnically diverse over the years, not just at the senior level, but also among the youth. Parlow Cone has said it wants to bridge that gap even further, and the association commissioned a study to better understand why some children – including many non-white children – don’t play soccer so they can take care of it.

However, for Dunn, who has been with the national team since 2013, having more black women on the team is not enough if they are not celebrated in the same way as their white counterparts.

Just as USWNT members faced the “double merit” of having to succeed and then convincing the world they deserved to be fairly compensated, Dunn faced a similar double standard: she played like a Star and helped the USWNT win a world cup, but found no one wanted to promote it as such. Now she’s pushing the subject.

“Even after the World Cup, I got the feeling,” Wow, I just deserved this incredible achievement, I made it to this big top stage and still I feel empty inside, “she told Emox News.” I always have nor the feeling of not being seen and I think it really comes down to the marketing. It comes down to that people drive that image and the representation and visibility of black women in football. By the time you do that, young black ones are going to be Girls never think they have a place in this game because they will never see those who look like them and are comfortable and inspired to want to stay in this sport.

“Everything I am talking about now comes from a place where I would like to reach the face of football, yes, but at the end of the day, it’s not even about me. It’s about the image of a black woman or person of color being visible to those who show up. “

Crystal Dunn is the USWNT’s most prominent black player, and that portrayal is important. (Photo by Jeremy Reper / ISI Photos / Getty Images)

That the face of the USWNT has so much potential to have cultural impact is a testament to all of the work the USWNT has done in the field of gender equality over the years. It was only through the ambitions and advocacy of the USWNT players that the USWNT became a pop culture juggernaut that single-handedly changed the way the world viewed women’s team sport.

Now there is hope that the USWNT can use their large platform to make similar progress in the race, and the team is getting a nudge from a new group called the Black Women’s Player Collective.

The BWPC is open to all black players in the Women’s National Football League and supporting non-black allies who wish to be part of their lawyers’ advice. Although separate from the NWSL Players Association, the two groups are looking for opportunities to become partners.

“It was really nice to work together and not feel like only black women can solve racism,” said Dunn. “It’s like that, no, that’s exactly the opposite of what we want to convey.”

“That’s the biggest thing, the feeling that we’re not doing this alone,” added Dunn. “We also have a lot of help from the white women in the league who have shown a lot of interest and support.”

After launching in October, the BWPC is still in its infancy, but its members have launched initiatives like working with NWSL teams to ensure they have staff and procedures in place to deal with racial abuse.

“Guidelines like this can really help players feel mentally and physically safe in the markets they play for,” said Sauerbrunn, a member of the Advocates Council and teammate at Dunn’s on the Portland Thorns.

Dunn also hopes the BWPC’s efforts will have a lasting impact on making black girls feel like they belong through initiatives like installing mini soccer fields in underserved communities.

The goal is to make sure no one has to feel like Dunn when she got into the sport.

“Football is still a predominantly white sport, and I was the only black girl growing up on my team until I was around 15,” she told Emox News. “I felt like I was the only one for a long time and tried to adapt because I knew I was different, but at the same time I was still trying to enjoy the sport and focus on why I love it. I’ve grown into it and ultimately feel like I found my identity in this sport at a young age, but that doesn’t mean it didn’t feel lonely along the way. “

The BWPC and USWNT say they have more plans in the works, and once the world can return to normal after the pandemic, their efforts may expand even further.

However, if the USWNT’s story is a guide in the struggle for gender equality, progress takes time and there is never a finish line in sight. Even so, ending white supremacy has become a struggle worth taking up.

“This is something we have to do all the time,” Rapinoe told Emox News last month. “This is a lens that we need to see through all the time and that requires a serious, genuine commitment that we must all have.”

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