U.S. Women’s National Soccer Team Receives $1 Million From Athletic Wear Brand to Level Pay Gap

The U.S. Women’s National Soccer Team’s 22 Olympic players will be receiving a bonus pay check totaling a cumulative $1 million this week.

Women’s athletic wear company Title Nine has made a $1 million donation to the team’s players association in an effort to help level the much-publicized and little-allayed pay gap between male and female soccer players in the U.S.

The U.S. Women’s National Soccer Team — including stars like Kelley O’Hara, Alex Morgan and Megan Rapinoe — is currently battling for a gold medal at the Olympics in Tokyo. On Tuesday, their match with Australia ended with a scoreless draw, and they will next face the Netherlands in Friday’s quarterfinal.

Bay Area-based Title Nine, founded in 1989 by chief executive officer Missy Park, was named for the 1972 civil rights law that barred gender-based discrimination in school environments, which resulted in young women and girls being given the opportunity to compete in many athletic programs that had not been previously offered.

Park said that three weeks ago, she watched the documentary “LFG,” which explores pay discrepancies and sexual discrimination incurred by U.S. Women’s National Soccer Team players. She quickly decided to spring to action. “There are many figures highlighted but the biggest was that there is a $64 million difference between what the women would have made if they had been under the men’s contract over five years. I proceeded to get as ticked off as I have been in a long time. I felt like we could step in as a business and recognize that the U.S. Women’s National Soccer team is a national treasure but the U.S. soccer federation treats them like second-class citizens,” Park said.

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After approaching Title Nine staff and executives, Park decided to donate a $1 million check because, for her company, “it felt like real skin in the game.” After receiving a green light from the team’s communications department and players association, the company moved forward with its donation — which does not come with any strings like sponsorship clauses, personal appearances or endorsements.

“It’s the biggest check we’ve ever written. But it might be a rounding number for companies like Nike or Procter & Gamble. Other people can participate, we want other big companies to stop taking out ads in support and start writing checks so players can support themselves. Individuals can support, too — buy tickets to a game, watch it on TV, tell a sports bar to change the game to a women’s game,” Park said.

While Park was adamant that her company’s donation is less about press and more about creating a stir around equal pay, she does hope that it initiates a watershed effect that could help implement broader change.

Title Nine on Wednesday will launch a site called KickInForEqualPay.com, allowing businesses and individuals to make their own donations — which they will match up to $250,000. This equals out to about a $50,000 total per player to do with it what they see fit.

Title Nine sells direct-to-consumer, with 18 boutiques primarily concentrated along the West Coast. It employs 350 people, 93 percent of which are female, according to Park. She said that 49 percent of the company’s employees are people of color and that 100 percent of its board of advisers are either women or people of color.

But as for the players, Park said, “I don’t need them to say, ‘thank you.’ This is a very small way of expressing our gratitude for the work they have done — the heavy lifting on and off the field — and letting them know that it’s time to be compensated like the world-class team they are. When you consider the training they do plus their advocacy it doesn’t begin to cover it — but it’s a start. And if a little company like us can put up a million bucks, I’d sure like to ask other big brands to do the same.”

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