The U.S. women's soccer team is still savoring its victory after capturing the World Cup championship this summer. But off the field, the players continue to battle a gender discrimination case against their employer, the U.S. Soccer Federation.
The women are demanding pay equal to that of their counterparts on the men's national soccer team. U.S. Soccer says it pays women more than men in salaries and game bonuses.
Last week, mediation efforts between the two sides broke down, so on Monday a federal judge set a trial date: May 2020, just weeks before the women's team will begin play at the Tokyo Olympics.
Women's team co-captain Alex Morgan says she doesn't see the trial as a distraction.
"I don't think we know soccer without distraction. We feel like we have always been fighting for a seat at the table and we have always fought for everything that we've earned, so having the case be pushed up to May I think is good overall," Morgan tells NPR's David Greene.
On whether the rift between her team and U.S. Soccer can be healed
Obviously, as it gets closer to trial, it's probably going to get uglier, so I think that will take more time to heal. However, knowing that U.S. Soccer is our employer and we want to represent our country on the highest level and we want to move forward together ... I'm hopeful in the next nine months that we can find a resolution that suits us both in that the women and the men are paid equal in compensation. If not, then I can see it continuing on this path until trial.
On whether the rift could get in the way of attracting more kids to the sport
We're not going to reap the benefits from equal pay. Who's going to reap the benefits is that next generation. So I think those young girls and that next generation should feel confident that they're in good hands and that we are setting up this structure and this compensation and this true equality for them.
On her plans to participate in a fourth World Cup
I'm really confident that I can continue to play at the top of my game for another four years, so I'm really excited to continue on this journey with the national team, and with my club team, Orlando Pride, in 2023, whether that's in Australia or wherever else because there's currently 10 countries bidding for the 2023 [Women's] World Cup. I hope to be there.
Milton Guevara and Jessica Smith produced and edited this story for broadcast. Heidi Glenn adapted it for the Web.
DAVID GREENE, HOST:
The women's national soccer team is still on its victory tour after capturing the World Cup championship this summer. The players are also still battling their employer for equal pay. The team is suing the U.S. Soccer Federation, claiming gender discrimination. Mediation efforts broke down this week, and so a judge has set a trial date for May of 2020. That is just weeks before the Olympics. I asked Alex Morgan, the co-captain of the women's national team, if the trial might become a distraction.
ALEX MORGAN: I don't think we know soccer without distraction. We feel like we have always been fighting for a seat at the table, and we have always fought for everything that we've earned. So having the case be pushed up to May, I think, is good, overall.
GREENE: I was talking to Alex Morgan from Chicago. She was getting ready to play with her club team, the Orlando Pride, against the Chicago Red Stars. I asked her if this rift between players and U.S. soccer can be healed, especially if this trial ends without the results she's hoping for.
MORGAN: We're not thinking about the losing side of it. I think if someone asked what our thoughts are winning or losing the trial, I feel like you're asking the wrong people about losing because (laughter) with this national team, we are fighters, and we've showed that through the history of this program. But I think just standing up for ourselves and knowing what is true and being confident and what is right, I think it's bigger than us and us deserving equal pay. It's bigger than women's sports.
GREENE: But can this be healed? Do you see a future where you could come together with U.S. Soccer and, you know, go forward with this common goal of growing soccer in the United States and growing women's soccer in the United States?
MORGAN: I think that U.S. soccer is in a particular situation where they have the opportunity to be considered a hero and be considered a leader on this issue. And so I think in that way we definitely can move forward. And it can be healed, and it can be applauded, if done the right way. Obviously, as it gets closer to trial, it's probably going to get uglier. So I think that that will take more time to heal. However, knowing that U.S. Soccer is our employer and we want to represent our country on the highest level, and we want to move forward together, and we want to take more of a collaborative approach, you know, I'm hopeful in the next nine months that we can find a resolution that fits us both and that the women and the men are paid equal in compensation. If not then I can see it continuing on this path until trial.
GREENE: And you say continuing on this path. I mean, if that happens and if it takes a long time to heal this rift, could it start to get in the way of attracting more kids and more families into this sport that you love?
MORGAN: You know, I think that we've done a good job of setting a high standard for women's soccer in the U.S. We've fought for so much as a team. And I think that it really gives kids a feeling of confidence to know that their future is in a good hands. At the end of the day, what we're fighting for, at least, the older players, myself included, we're not going to reap the benefits from equal pay and what we're fighting for within the national team. Who's going to reap the benefits is that next generation. So I think those young girls and that next generation should feel confident that they're in good hands and that we are setting up this structure and this compensation and this true equality for them.
GREENE: I think about the next generation and as they watch you out there playing. I mean, you get so much attention for your goal scoring, which is pretty incredible. I just wonder, is there another part of your game that you work hard on that doesn't get as much attention?
MORGAN: I do work on a lot of different parts of my game other than finishing. Obviously, the goals are what excites fans. But I think something that I've really progressed on is my evolution of my awareness of my teammates and knowing my teammates and the strengths and weaknesses so we can be completely on the same page. And I think during the World Cup, people saw that. We were dominating, and not just because we had great individual players, but because we all worked so well together and we all understood each other. And I think regardless of whether we're playing on the field or fighting this lawsuit together, you can just see that we're so united.
GREENE: Are you planning on trying for a fourth World Cup, or do you feel like this last one was the end of, at least, that part of your journey?
MORGAN: I'm really confident that I can continue to play at the top my game for another four years. So I'm really excited to continue on this journey with the national team and with my club team, Orlando Pride. And in 2023, whether that's in Australia, or wherever else - because there's currently 10 countries bidding for the 2022 World Cup - I hope to be there.
GREENE: Alex Morgan, thanks so much for taking a few minutes for us. We really appreciate it.
MORGAN: Thank you.
GREENE: That's Alex Morgan, co-captain of the U.S. women's national team. Her club team, the Orlando Pride, did beat Chicago last night, despite the fact that Alex was removed from the game after a collision. Fortunately, early signs are that it's nothing serious. Transcript provided by NPR, Copyright NPR.