One is a self-proclaimed “walking protest” with fuchsia hair who sparked petulant tweets from the president. The other is a vocal vegan who riled up the Brits with her celebratory tea-time pantomime during a July game against England. Together, Megan Rapinoe and Alex Morgan led the U.S. women’s national soccer team to its second consecutive World Cup win this summer — and are hoping to rack up yet another victory in their next skirmish: a battle for equal pay.
The California natives and the team they co-captain have enjoyed much public glory as a result of their FIFA wins. In 2015, they were the first women’s sports team to be honored with a ticker tape parade in New York City, which they followed by visiting Barack Obama in the White House. Morgan was voted U.S. Soccer Female Player of the Year for 2018, and Rapinoe was named FIFA Women’s Player of the Year for 2019. Just last month, both were featured in Fortune magazine’s Most Powerful Women in Business issue.
Yet despite the honor and hefty profit they’ve brought to the United States Soccer Federation (USSF), they argue that the men’s team is compensated at much higher rates despite never having won a World Cup. Now, with the eyes of the world — and especially those of idolizing young girls — on them, they’re using their considerable clout to bring attention to that absurd discrepancy.
In March, Morgan, Rapinoe, and 26 of their teammates filed a lawsuit against the USSF for violating equal pay and civil rights laws. It’s the first time a pro sports team has sued its employer for gender discrimination — but it isn’t the first time Olympic champions Rapinoe and Morgan have used their platform to address or spotlight an injustice.
Rapinoe (pronounced ruh-PEE-noh; get it right!) was the first white pro athlete, and first woman, to join 49ers quarterback Colin Kaepernick in kneeling during the National Anthem back in 2016. “I know what it means to look at the flag and not have it protect all of your liberties,” said Rapinoe, who is gay. The USSF quickly issued a rule that its players must stand during the anthem; now she stands quietly, hands clasped behind her. She has also been outspoken about President Donald Trump, telling him, “Your message is excluding people,” and telling a reporter who asked about her team being invited to visit the president at 1600 Pennsylvania Avenue, “I’m not going to the fucking White House.”
Morgan is an advocate for animal rights who tweets about her vegan diet; she was named PETA’s Most Beautiful Vegan Celebrity this year. She authored a series of books called The Kicks, aimed at inspiring and empowering middle-school girls. And when some soccer fans were offended by her pinkies-up tea-sipping celebration gesture after she scored a goal against England this summer, she publicly pointed out the double-standard that allows and even encourages men to whoop up their victories but prefers that women show restraint.
You can see Morgan and Rapinoe tell their story when UCSB Arts & Lectures brings the pair to the Arlington Theatre on October 15. They’ll also lead a soccer clinic the same day at UCSB’s Harder Stadium for about 200 girls in the Santa Barbara Soccer Club.
Lena Fackler is a 10-year-old soccer player who will attend the clinic and the evening event — and who was watching the World Cup when they clinched their win. “They deserved it,” she said. “They’re really good. They have a lot of speed and really good skills. They worked really hard.”
She hopes to learn a thing or two from the champs on the field next week. “Maybe some things that work for them might work for us in our games,” Fackler said. “I think it’s going to be really cool to get to meet them.”
In the meantime, Morgan answered a few questions for us on the phone last week.
What should local audiences expect from your Santa Barbara talk? Hopefully there’s going to be some good banter, some laughs. We’ll bring up a lot of memories from the World Cup. I’ve spent quite a bit of time in Santa Barbara; I’m looking forward to visiting.
Thinking back now, can you remember why you started playing soccer in the first place? I joined because my sister played. I was able to really let my energy go in the sport. It was so exhilarating with the running and physicality.
If you weren’t a soccer player, what would you be doing right now? I have a big love for animals, so something like helping stray cats and dogs in the U.S., advocating for adopting rather than buying animals, or protecting endangered animals from poachers in Africa.
How comfortable are you in the “role model” mantle that you’re now asked to wear daily? That’s something I never expected when I was young and I wanted to become a pro soccer player, but we’ve learned that you have to be more than just an athlete. It’s kind of ingrained in myself and my teammates that we put education first and look at how to grow the sport. Being a role model is one small part of that. We don’t define ourselves only by being an athlete — we’re 23 completely different women from different backgrounds with different journeys that come together and do something amazing.
With varying skill sets, too! What do you think boardrooms could learn from the U.S. women’s soccer team? Considering we’ve been in a lot of them lately … [Laughs.] I think that we have a lot of patience and empathy that we’ve been able to learn through playing at the highest level and having to adjust your game, your emotion, to lift the team up ahead of the individual.
What’s the most surprising thing kids want to know when they meet you? The biggest thing I’ve found is relatability: Girls wanting to feel like I was in their shoes when I was their age — asking about superstitions around games, your teammates being your best friends. …
Speaking of which, how do you and Megan complement one another on and off the field? We’re super supportive of each other. We’ve played together for so long that we totally can predict on the field where each other is going to be. Becoming captains together, we had a lot of real honest conversations. We don’t always see eye to eye but feel comfortable sharing our opinions and coming to common ground. Our families have spent a lot of time together, so we almost feel like family.
You make this equal-pay fight look easy, but there must be moments when it weighs on you. What’s the bigger thing that pulls at you when you think, This is a mess — I just want to play soccer? All my teammates and seeing them put in the work — and all the support and recognition we’ve gotten for this fight we’re having with our employer, our government, and our cultural norms. This is going to make a bigger cultural impact than anything we could do on the field.
4•1•1 | Alex Morgan and Megan Rapinoe will speak at The Arlington Theatre (1317 State St.) on Tuesday, October 15, at 7 p.m. For tickets and details, see artsandlectures.ucsb.edu.
Carin Jennings Paved the Way in Women’s Soccer
UCSB Grad Dazzled Crowds in Winning America’s First World Cup in 1991
by John Zant
Before Megan Rapinoe and Alex Morgan swaggered through France this year, before Carli Lloyd unleashed her hat trick in 2015, before Brandi Chastain pulled off her shirt in 1999, Carin Jennings was the most dazzling player anybody had ever seen in a women’s soccer championship.
But the privilege of watching a U.S. national soccer team win its first global title in 1991 was enjoyed mainly by fans of the host country, China. An obscure cable channel with few subscribers televised the matches in the U.S.
It was not until later that FIFA, the international soccer body long ruled by men, recognized that tournament as the first Women’s World Cup. Cozying up to a sponsor, FIFA originally named it the M&M’s Cup. It’s come a long way since then, thanks in large part to the efforts of American women that began three decades ago.
What the world saw from Rapinoe, Morgan, and their teammates this past summer was a replication of 1991. Ever since then, a competitive DNA has flowed through all U.S. women’s soccer teams. Anson Dorrance, coach of the team that won in China, called them “college warriors that changed the game.”
Carin Jennings was one of those warriors. The ponytailed Palos Verdes native was recruited by Dorrance to come to North Carolina, where he was building a legendary program. But she decided to stick to her California roots and attend UCSB. She became a four-time All-American, winding up her Gaucho career in 1986 with 102 goals, almost twice as many as any other college woman had scored up to that time. North Carolina star Mia Hamm nudged the record to 103 goals in 1993.
“Carin was an absolutely dominant player,” said Bruce Fisher, who coached the UCSB women during her senior year. “She was really fast and had an exquisite touch.” She would use her skills to facilitate other players, accumulating 60 assists. On the night she scored her 100th goal, Fisher had to tell her to stop being unselfish and go for it.
Players on the 2019 World Cup champion team who most remind him of Jennings, Fisher said, are the creative dribbler Tobin Heath and Rose Lavelle, who struck the crowning goal in the 2-0 final victory over the Netherlands.
In a Sports Illustrated “Throwback” podcast, hosted by soccer writer Grant Wahl, Dorrance described Jennings as “one of the most amazing one-v-one artists I’ve ever coached.” U.S. teammate Julie Foudy said, “She would just chop, chop, chop through teams, spin them around.”
The U.S. women were nomads in the years leading up to 1991, playing most of their games on foreign soil. They can tell stories of staying in roach motels, existing on $10 a day, and doing their laundry in bathroom sinks. A month before their first World Cup, they had a training camp at UCSB. On October 19, a crowd of 3,000 at Harder Stadium watched the national women’s team play a game on the West Coast for the first time. It defeated the Gaucho women, then ranked No. 12 in the nation, by a 10-0 score.
Then it was off to China — the long way, from the East Coast, on several flights to save money. Dorrance had his warriors primed. “We went there with the ambition of tearing everyone’s throat out,” he said. They had a potent triple strike force in Jennings, Michelle Akers, and April Heinrichs.
On November 17, the Americans opened against Sweden, a team they’d never beaten. Jennings scored the first goal, and the U.S. went on to win, 3-2. Victories over Brazil and Japan set up a semifinal showdown with Germany. Jennings went wild in that one, scoring three goals in the first 33 minutes of a resounding 5-2 triumph. In the final against Norway, another nemesis, the U.S. won 2-1 on a late goal by Akers. After the final whistle, the Americans joyfully swarmed into a dogpile that the FIFA pooh-bahs considered to be an excessive display. Jennings received the Golden Ball as the most valuable player.
“If she did that in 2015,” Wahl commented, “she’d be a household name.”
She goes by the name of Carin Gabarra, having married Jim Gabarra, a soccer player and coach, after the World Cup. “Every teammate was at my wedding,” she said. For the past 27 years, she has been coaching her own college warriors, the women’s soccer team of the U.S. Naval Academy, to more than 300 wins. A recent 1-0 win over Army raised the Mids’ record to 10-1 this season.
Gabarra continued playing with the national team through the 1995 Women’s World Cup, where the U.S. took third place, and the first Olympic women’s soccer tournament in 1996, a gratifying conclusion to her playing career at 31. She was substituted for Hamm in the final minutes as a thundering crowd of 76,481 at Georgia’s Sanford Stadium watched the Americans take the gold medal with a 2-1 win over China.
During those years, the women’s team had some battles with the U.S. Soccer Federation that foreshadowed the conflict that’s ongoing today. The players sought the right to secure their own sponsorship deals and to receive better pay. “We had to fight for things,” Gabarra said. “Our team changed women’s sports all over the country. I love my time. I wouldn’t trade it. It’s great to be a stepping stone.”
The current women’s national team is taking a big step, filing a lawsuit against U.S. Soccer that basically asks the question, Are we being compensated as well as the men’s team would be if it had won a World Cup? As Foudy put it in the SI podcast: “Our fight was for equitable treatment. Theirs is for equal treatment.”
Gabarra took pride in seeing the 2019 U.S. women’s team fiercely and unapologetically take down the rest of the world. “With success comes more adversity,” she said. “When I played, nobody knew what was going on. Now you have everybody hopping on social media.”
Times may have changed, Gabarra said, but one thing has been constant since 1991: “The fabric of the female athlete in the United States: mentally tough, physically fit, and eager to compete.”