BATTLE CREEK, Mich. — Female athletes across the nation are celebrating a big victory Tuesday after the United States Women's National Team reached a settlement in its equal pay lawsuit. The U.S. Soccer Federation has agreed to pay $24 million to it's former and current players.
The USWNT will receive $22 million in back pay, as well as $2 million to benefit players in their post-career goals. The lawsuit had been ongoing for nearly six years.
Battle Creek native Ava Cook, a former Lakeview High School soccer player who now is a member of the Chicago Red Stars in the National Women's Soccer League, said this decision will make it easier for women in professional sports to just play the game they love.
"To see this happening and to know that they work hard every single day and they want to do something they love, like they can do that and be successful and have the same opportunities as everyone else in that field if that's what they choose to do," she said.
The USWNT has proven its value for decades with numerous world cup titles and Olympic gold medals. Now, the team is adding equal pay to its list of wins.
"You don't have to worry about, 'Well, if I do play professional, am I going to need a second job? Am I going to need a second source of income?'" Cook said.
Lindsay Tarpley, a Portage native and former USWNT player, said it's important to recognize how far the team has come.
"The players who paved the way back in the 1990s, the next generation who helped the game grow/evolve and finally, today, the players who have pushed to make equal pay a reality - it's a huge win for equality in our sport," said Tarpley. "My hope is there continues to be an increase in visibility and opportunity for women athletics. This is a huge victory that will provide more support and opportunities for women to dedicate themselves to their sport."
This long fight for investment is putting a fire under people like Cook, who dream of wearing the U.S. crest on her jersey like Tarpley did. Cook's former high school coach, Todd Wells, said this settlement is a big step in making women athletes feel valued. He said it helps ensure some financial stability for players.
Linda Borish, the chair of the Department of History at Western Michigan University, said the settlement sets a precedent for high school players, who see the strides being made that will impact their potentially professional careers.
"Some may decide, 'I can focus more on this and people are going to invest in me in my training and my opportunities,'" she said.
But Borish said the full impacts of this victory may not reveal themselves right away.
"This suggests is that athletes are going to take more autonomy and ownership of their body, their athletic performance. And so this is going to change what happens with athletic budgets, scholarships," Borish said.
For now, professional players like Cook are embracing the changes to come, in hopes other leagues and other sports will pay women equally.
"I could not be more thankful for those who put in all of the hard work, you know, like they have done so much that it makes it almost easier for the rest of us to kind of follow in their footsteps and want to be great like them," Cook said.