The National Team With a History of Fighting Back

The National Team With a History of Fighting Back

The U.S. Women's National Soccer team waves to fans after defeating Brazil 2-0 in the Women's World Cup semifinal on July 4, 1999, at Stanford Stadium in Palo Alto, California.

SourceMIKE NELSON/AFP/Getty

Why you should care

Because Team USA’s stars hope their World Cup triumph will carry over to their legal battles off the field. 

Welcome to The Thread, OZY’s chart-topping weekly podcast. In Season 5, we explore the history-making 1999 U.S. women’s soccer team and all the unheralded athletes, policymakers and activists who made their journey possible. Subscribe now to follow The Thread on OZY.com, Spotify, Apple, Himalaya or wherever you prefer to stream your audio.

In March, the U.S. Women’s National Soccer Team decided to take on a new opponent off the field: Its own employer, the U.S. Soccer Federation. The players filed a class action lawsuit on International Women’s Day alleging gender discrimination in pay, working conditions and more. “I think, for a lot of the American public, something like this takes them by surprise because we see these players with these big endorsement deals and you just kind of assume that things have always been pretty good for them,” says Caitlin Murray, author of The National Team: The Inside Story of the Women Who Changed Soccer. “But in actuality, this team has been waging similar battles the entire time it has existed.”

It’s true. The current national team comes from a long line of fighters. The 1999 women’s national team — or the 99ers, as they are affectionately known — were no strangers to confrontation. Even after the 99ers won the World Cup that summer, they still had to fight for their rights. One prime example was when the players organized their own nationwide victory tour following the World Cup, because U.S. Soccer had nothing planned. Then U.S. Soccer threatened to sue the team to stop the tour. That’s when Mia Hamm, the team’s best-known player — who had been in Nike commercials with Michael Jordan — dropped a bombshell in defense of her teammates. “If you sue us,” she responded, “I’m prepared to never play for U.S. Soccer again.” The U.S. Soccer Federation caved.

Two decades later, the unfair treatment persists — even in the face of historic triumph, as Team USA brought home its second consecutive World Cup title with a victory against the Netherlands on Sunday. And this week on OZY’s podcast The Thread, we talk to members of the current national team like Alex Morgan and Carli Lloyd about the challenges of trying to win on the field and in the courtroom at the same time. We also show how the current gender discrimination lawsuit fits into a broader decades-long struggle for equality that began with the very law that the current national team is bringing suit under: Title VII of the Civil Rights Act of 1964. As the novelist William Faulkner famously put it, “The past is never dead. It’s not even past.”

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