Alex Morgan on the Wage Gap in Sports: “The Narrative Is Changing”
After filing a gender discrimination lawsuit against U.S. Soccer, Morgan and her teammates reflect on how far women's sports have come — and how much further there is to go.
Since the Time’s Up movement kicked off, we’ve seen some of the world’s top female athletes stand up and speak out for pay equity within their sport.
In the WNBA, players like A’ja Wilson and Kayla McBride voiced their wage gap frustrations on Twitter (In 2018, the WNBA set an individual salary cap of $117,500, while the minimum starting salary in the NBA is approximately $580,000). In hockey, team captain Megan Duggan and the U.S. women’s hockey team banded together to triple their salaries, which at the time, amounted to only about $20,000 every four years. And most recently, the U.S. women’s soccer team have positioned themselves front and center in the pay parity fight, leading the conversation since 2016 when they first filed a federal complaint of wage discrimination against U.S. Soccer.
This year they took it one step further when all 28 members of the team — including star players Carli Lloyd, Alex Morgan, and Megan Rapinoe — filed a joint gender discrimination lawsuit against U.S. Soccer. The lawsuit takes on not only the amount that they’re payed, but also other “institutionalized gender discrimination” like how they travel to games, the medical treatment they receive, and more.
The lawsuit was also ceremoniously filed on International Women’s Day, and before all eyes were on soccer’s reigning champs at the FIFA Women’s World Cup. Just days after the lawsuit was announced, co-captain Morgan found herself in the City of Lights looking ahead to the World Cup, but also marveling at the support that she and her team have received since the news broke on March 8.
“It's been pretty incredible to see how it's gained momentum in such a short period of time,” Morgan told InStyle at a Nike event at the Palais Brongniart in Paris where the brand revealed 14 exclusive national team collections for the Women’s World Cup. One of the best surprises, she says, has been athletes from all different sports rallying around her and her teammates over the last few days. “So many women have reached out to us,” she says. “Serena Williams came out in support of our efforts, which was amazing. I also have lots of friends who are male athletes that have texted me to say, ‘How can I support what you are doing? What can I do to help?’”
At the event, soccer players from 14 international teams stood together in solidarity to not only show off their World Cup uniforms, but also to celebrate the overwhelming power of women in sports, and Nike’s commitment to support female athletes at every level. Top athletes from other disciplines were also at the presentation, like gymnast Simone Biles and fencer Ibtihaj Muhammad, and an air of sisterhood in sports was palpable as they all shared a stage. “It’s like we’re a part of something bigger right now,” says Morgan. “I got to meet a lot of players from other federations, and also catch up with some of the Canadian players like Kadeisha Buchanan. We have a fierce rivalry with the Canadian team on the field, but we’re really good friends with a lot of them off the field.”
Morgan hopes that the lawsuit will help set a new standard for all of the female soccer players that will follow in her footsteps one day. After all, she still remembers how much Mia Hamm, Brandi Chastain, and the entire 1999 U.S. Women’s Soccer team made an impact on her life as a young athlete. “I was 10 when I watched the 1999 Women’s World Cup and I’ll never forget the shockwaves of that win,” she says. “It was such a big game, which was obviously watched by millions of people, but it also inspired so many girls to become involved in the sport.” Morgan was excited that one of the jerseys for this year’s games pays tribute to the design worn by the 1999 team. “We have all 50 states’ names printed on the back of the jersey like they had, so it’s cool because it sort of feels like they have our back going into the matches.”
Morgan, who attended the event alongside Rapinoe, says that having her teammates to lean on throughout the filing process has made things a little easier. “The most amazing thing is that I have teammates that support me and vice versa. I have this built-in group of women around me that are standing up for themselves and each other. We’re all going through the same things,” she says. “I think it can be more difficult when you're an individual, like an athlete in tennis or golf who is not involved with a team, or if you’re speaking up for yourself as a female executive in an industry that’s dominated by males.”
With that, she acknowledges that the wage gap is a problem that reaches far beyond the soccer field. “It’s been powerful and inspiring for me to see so many women outside of sports stand up for themselves too,” she says. Her advice to anyone who is looking to close the gap for themselves? “I know it can be scary and intimidating, but if you feel in your gut that it’s the right thing to do, then go for it. It takes a lot of courage to put yourself out there that like that and ask for what you deserve. But I always say you have to take a big risk to get a big reward. And just know that the narrative is changing. It’s amazing to see the progress that has been made, but there is still so much more work to do.”