When I first watched Nike’s recent “Dream Further” video that shows a young girl taking the field with the world’s most elite women’s soccer players, I thought it was brilliant. The video shows how important women’s soccer is and why the success of the United States women’s national soccer team (USWNT) means more than the famous World Cup Trophy or Olympic gold medal. Success illustrates to all female athletes, not just soccer players, that they can be the world’s greatest.
The USWNT is more popular than the men’s team, especially after the men’s team failed to make the 2018 World Cup. There- I said it, and I guarantee most Americans would agree with me. Despite its short history, women’s soccer in the US inspires young girls across the country.
Obviously, not all women’s sports are seen equal to men’s. Women’s soccer has major obstacles to overcome—like closing the pay gap between the men’s and women’s national teams.
A 2015 study found that women’s sports at LA-based news programs receive 3.2 percent of broadcast time. So, you’re telling me female athletes in Los Angeles see themselves represented 3.2 percent of the time? It doesn’t shock me, unfortunately.
The Women’s National Basketball Association (WNBA) is criticized for not being “entertaining enough” for many basketball fans. Still, everybody who understands basketball respects the WNBA and regards it as high-quality basketball. The only problem is the WNBA is hardly broadcasted. The finals usually appear on ESPN, but not everybody has wide-access to that channel.
Fast-pitch softball? ESPN annually broadcasts the Women’s College World Series (WCWS), but it’s rare to find a regular-season collegiate softball game on ESPN.
Women’s sports have faced many hurdles in U.S. history. Title IX’s enactment finally gave way to equal opportunities for female athletes in 1972. With Title IX’s passage, women were granted more opportunity in sports. Sports like soccer gave women more college scholarship opportunities that their men counterparts possessed for many years.
Even though women were granted equal protection and funding at the youth and collegiate levels, women still faced obstacles professionally—and they still do today, too. There wasn’t a first Women’s World Cup until 1991—61 years after the inaugural men’s tournament, which ultimately highlights the gender gap in soccer. The first women’s tournament included an 80-minute game compared to the traditional 90-minutes in men’s games. The USWNT went into that tournament to prove a point, and they did, defeating Norway 2-1 to become the first-ever Women’s World Cup champions. The rest is history, literally.
For the first time ever, the 1996 Summer Olympics in Atlanta featured women’s soccer. Team USA made its debut and won the first gold medal in the sport. The gold-medal game was played in front of 76,481 people, but it was never broadcasted live. Team USA made history yet again, showing Americans how important women’s soccer is to the country.
The 1999 Women’s World Cup is regarded as a turning-point for women’s soccer in the US. Across the nation, fans filled NFL-sized stadiums to watch women’s soccer. The outcome of that World Cup sparked conversation about a professional women’s soccer league. Team USA, a top-tier team, came into the World Cup ready to revenge their 1995 World Cup loss in Sweden. The USWNT’s roster encompassed some of the sport’s best and drew national attention. The championship game was played in sunny Pasadena, Calif., at Rose Bowl Stadium in front of over 91,000 fans. The US defeated China in thrilling fashion to claim the title after Brandi Chastain’s powerful penalty shot soared past China’s goalkeeper. Chastain famously ripped off her jersey and slid the ground, creating one of sport’s greatest photographs. Chastain, along with many members of that team, justified the need for professional women’s soccer. The sport is too great, and the U.S. possessed too many great female athletes to not have a successful professional league. For once, women’s sports were in the national spotlight. The eminence of women’s soccer was paraded—and America began to listen.
In 2001 the Women’s United Professional Soccer Association was established. It was the world’s first professional soccer league, meaning all players got paid as professionals. The league failed financially and the U.S. didn’t see another professional women’s soccer league until 2009 when the Women’s Professional soccer league (WPS) was established; however, the WPS shut down in 2012. The National Women’s Soccer League succeeded the WPS in 2012 and currently has nine teams.
The USWNT paved the way for women’s athletics in the U.S. Little girls can now dream of being professional soccer players—something that would’ve been impossible 25 years ago. Resilience and boldness is embodied throughout its history, and its advocacy for minimizing the gender gap sends a clear message to every girl and woman: never let society stop you from achieving your dream. Today’s USWNT’s players were once girls who idolized the 1999 team that won the World Cup. Today, they serve as inspiration for the next generation.
The USWNT kicks off the 2019 World Cup in France next Tuesday, facing Thailand. While the U.S. team goes into the tournament as one of the favorites, it will still be tested throughout the tournament.
The USWNT shows young girls that they can accomplish their dreams through hard work and boldness. As women’s sports fight for media coverage, equal pay and respect, the USWNT displays the greatness of women’s sports. Americans tune in to watch the games, athletes idolize the star players and young girls finally have a representation of themselves on live, national TV. When you win a World Cup, so do millions of girls.
Gowdy, K. (2018, December 13). The Interest is There – It’s Past Time to Start Giving Women’s Sports Equal Media Coverage. Retrieved June 7, 2019, from https://www.womenssportsfoundation.org/education/interest-past-time-start-giving-womens-sports-equal-media-coverage/