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Megan Rapinoe meets with President Biden on Equal Pay Day: 'I've been devalued ... because I'm a woman'

Henry Bushnell
·8-min read

Megan Rapinoe and U.S. women's soccer teammate Margaret "Midge" Purce met with President Joe Biden and First Lady Jill Biden in the Oval Office on Wednesday, and spoke at an "Equal Pay Day" event at the White House.

Rapinoe, an Olympic gold medalist and two-time World Cup winner, said that, "despite those wins, I've been devalued, I've been disrespected, and dismissed because I am a woman. And I've been told I don't deserve any more than less – because I am a woman."

She said, though, that she accepted a featured role at the event, with dozens of U.S. women's national team players joining virtually, not to advocate for herself but rather on behalf of others.

"I know there are millions of people who are marginalized by gender in the world, and experience the same thing in their jobs," Rapinoe said as the Bidens watched on. "And I know there are people who experience even more, where the layers of discrimination continue to stack against them. And I and my teammates are here for them. We on the women's national team today are here because of them."

Rapinoe then introduced President Biden. Biden, during his remarks, advocated for the passage of the Paycheck Fairness Act, which he said "will remove loopholes in the law allowing employers to justify gender pay disparities."

Purce, a burgeoning star and member of Harvard University's Board of Overseers, also delivered a powerful plea for investment in women's sports.

"The strength of unequal pay rests on the notion of unequal value. It is an issue of equity. When men began sports leagues, they were supported by billions in taxpayer subsidies. They were prioritized in media, and afforded time to grow. The investment was great, and the return was great."

She and her fellow National Women's Soccer League players, she said, "have asked for the same grace that was extended to men in the formative years of their leagues: True investment. I have spoken about equal play in formal settings such as this, and in informal exchanges. Often I'm resisted with declarations like, 'There just isn't enough interest in women's sports.'

"My response is always this: You would never expect a flower to bloom without water. But women in sport who have been denied water, sunlight and soil are somehow expected to blossom. Invest in women. Then let's talk again when you see the return."

US soccer player Megan Rapinoe (R) speaks, flanked by US President Joe Biden (L) and First Lady Jill Biden during an Equal Pay Day event in the South Court Auditorium of the White House in Washington, DC on March 24, 2021. (Photo by JIM WATSON / AFP) (Photo by JIM WATSON/AFP via Getty Images)
Megan Rapinoe introduces President Joe Biden at an Equal Pay Day event in the South Court Auditorium of the White House. (Photo by JIM WATSON/AFP via Getty Images)

Rapinoe also testifies before Congressional committee

Rapinoe also testified at a House Committee on Oversight and Reform hearing Wednesday morning. U.S. Representatives asked her to speak on a number of issues, including her team's gender discrimination lawsuit and the NCAA's inequitable treatment of women athletes.

First, though, committee chairwoman Carolyn Maloney (D-NY) asked Rapinoe why she'd taken on this gender equity fight. Rapinoe delivered a message similar to the one she'd send later that afternoon.

"It's not a fun thing," Rapinoe said of the fight. "But we felt like, for our team, and for the future of the sport, this is what we had to do.

"And I think throughout the process, we've realized that, yes, we're fighting for ourselves, and we have our outstanding lawsuit with the U.S. federation. But we're with everyone. We're with so many women across the country. We are with so many women who aren't able to be in this committee hearing, who aren't able to get the ear of the media, who do not have the bright lights and the cameras on them all the time."

'One cannot simply outperform inequality'

Rapinoe began her testimony with an opening statement.

"Equal pay, and equality in general, is a deep and personal passion of mine," she said. "What we've learned, and what we've continued to learn, is that there's no level of status, there's no accomplishment or power, that will protect you from the clutches of inequality. One cannot simply outperform inequality, or be excellent enough to escape discrimination of any kind.

"I'm here today because I know first hand that this is true. We're so often told in this country that if you just work hard and continue to achieve, you will be rewarded, and rewarded fairly. It's the promise of the American dream. But that promise has not been for everyone."

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Rapinoe echoed the broad claims that she and her teammates have made in a gender discrimination complaint against the U.S. Soccer Federation. "Instead of lobbying with the women's team in our efforts for equal pay and equality in general, U.S. Soccer Federation has continually lobbied against our efforts, and the efforts of millions of people marginalized by gender in the United States," Rapinoe said.

"And if it can happen to us, and it can happen to me, with the brightest lights shining on us at all times, it can and it does happen to every person who is marginalized by gender.

"But we don't have to wait, we don't have to continue to be patient for decades on end. We can change that today, we can change that right now. We just have to want to.

"So, as always, LFG."

Let's f***ing go.

GOP rep presses Rapinoe

Several of the questions that followed were softballs. Rep. Nancy Mace (R-SC), however, pressed Rapinoe on the USWNT's bargaining and legal action. When the USWNT signed their last collective bargaining agreement with U.S. Soccer in 2017, Mace pointed out, Rapinoe said she was proud of the deal.

"Yet you and your teammates continue to pursue a federal wage discrimination complaint," Mace said.

"To be clear," Rapinoe responded, "the comments that I made then, I thought us as players should be proud of the deal for what we were able to achieve considering the discrimination that we were up against. We asked very clearly for the exact same contract and same pot of money as the men received, and we were simply laughed out of the room."

Mace asked about some specifics of the complaint. The USWNT filed a lawsuit in March 2019, four months before they went on to win the World Cup. In May 2020, a judge rejected most of the USWNT's claims related to equal pay. In December, the players and U.S. Soccer reached a settlement that resolved outstanding claims related to working conditions, and allowed the players to go ahead with an appeal.

Mace noted that the judge, in dismissing the equal pay claims, had found that the women's team, collectively, actually made more per game than the men. Rapinoe called her analysis an "oversimplification." The two teams' salary structures are entirely different, which makes the case complicated.

"The overall available pot of money, or possibility of the pot of money, is much larger for the men's team," Rapinoe said. "We earned close to them because we're capturing nearly all of the pot of money available to us, whereas the men's team is not."

Mace shot back: "Your union that represented you all did such a bang-up job, did so well you had to sue later 'cause the deal was so bad, it sounds like."

Rapinoe responded: "We had to sue later because of gender discrimination."

(In a statement, U.S. Soccer president Cindy Parlow Cone – who took over when former president Carlos Cordeiro resigned last March – said, in part: "With our new leadership at U.S. Soccer and so much to look forward to, my hope is the players will accept our standing invitation to meet and find a path forward that serves the women’s team now and in the future. We, too, are committed to equal pay.")

WASHINGTON, DC - MARCH 24: Megan Rapinoe of the U.S. Women's National Soccer Team testifies virtually during a House Oversight Committee hearing titled
Megan Rapinoe of the testifies virtually during a House Oversight Committee hearing titled "Honoring Equal Pay Day: Examining the Long-Term Economic Impacts of Gender Inequality" on Capitol Hill on March 24, 2021 in Washington, DC. (Photo by Drew Angerer/Getty Images)

Rapinoe's message extends beyond equal pay

Rapinoe had a "hard out" at 10:45 a.m. for another commitment. Before she had to bolt, though, she was asked about how the alleged pay gap impacts her and her teammates. She acknowledged that individual compensation often draws headlines, but then made an argument similar to the one Purce would make that afternoon.

"I think what's often missed is the investment in resources, whether that's on the business side, whether that's in TV and marketing, branding, ticket sales, whatever it may be. The women's national team, in so many ways, is a business. We have a product, we're on the field playing, and we sell around the product. So the lack of investment – you saw it with the NCAA women's March Madness tournament – with a lack of proper investment, we don't really know the real potential of women's sports.

"What we know is how successful women's sports have been in the face of discrimination, in the face of gender disparity, in the face of a lack of investment on virtually every single level in comparison to men. So for me, it goes much deeper than what is hitting my bank account. ... It's about investing resources into the team, and into the business of the team, so the next generation can actually fully realize their potential as a sport."

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