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Soccer star Megan Rapinoe talks about finally gaining pay equality

SACHA PFEIFFER, HOST:

The U.S. women's national soccer team may have scored its biggest win yet. Last week, collective bargaining agreements were reached that guarantee equal pay for the men's and women's teams through 2028. One of the most vocal advocates for this change is soccer star and 2019 co-captain Megan Rapinoe.

MEGAN RAPINOE: I've been disrespected and dismissed because I am a woman and I've been told that I don't deserve any more than less because I am a woman.

PFEIFFER: Rapinoe sat down with NPR's host of The Limits, Jay Williams, and he joins us today to talk about their conversation. Hi, Jay.

JAY WILLIAMS, BYLINE: How are you?

PFEIFFER: I'm good. Jay, when you spoke with Megan Rapinoe, how did she describe the moment she first heard the news?

WILLIAMS: Sacha, she said it felt surreal. She said, quote-unquote, "it literally was pushing a boulder up a mountain." She's incredibly proud of her teammates and the collective effort. But she also had some harsher things to say about U.S. Soccer as a whole.

RAPINOE: Yeah, you could congratulate us, but U.S. Soccer gets no congratulations. They've been trying to, like, wrap themselves around the win. And I'm like, you do realize that equal pay, achieving it means that you weren't? So, you know, you're not going to get any pats on the back for this.

PFEIFFER: So she's tough on them. Jay, remind us the hurdles the women's soccer team faced to get here.

WILLIAMS: Sure. This lawsuit for the women's team filed - started back in 2016. It took six years to reach a settlement back in February. Keep in mind that this is a team that won the World Cup in 2015 and 2019, and has dominated the Olympics and taken home the gold twice, which is absolutely amazing. Then in 2019, they won in France. The stadium erupted into a deafening cheer of equal pay. So they had global support for this, and it still took a few more years to get here.

PFEIFFER: And this is a big accomplishment for them. But what work still needs to be done?

WILLIAMS: One of the things that I asked her - and here's something - a quote from ESPN. "The entire bonus pool for the 2022 World Cup in Qatar will be 400 million, while the bonuses for the women's tournament in Australia in 2023 will be 60 million. Put another way, in the previous World Cup cycle, the last place men's team won more prize money than the first place women's team, end quote. So, Sacha, lot of detractors will say that, hey, even though the men's team ends up last, generating the most prize money than the most successful women's team. But she put it in terms of the investment being made early on in male athletes versus female athletes in the men's team versus the women's team. Check this out.

RAPINOE: The money part also allows you freedom and, like, freedom to speak out, freedom to make bold choices, freedom to maybe go against your federation or freedom to, you know, take a bold stance. It just gives you that autonomy to do things that can push your sport.

WILLIAMS: That's interesting. Money is power in that way. Jay, because you are a former NBA player and a host on ESPN, you have seen a fair amount of collective bargaining agreements, both as an athlete and as a commentator. Would you set the stage for us for what this may mean for professional sports?

WILLIAMS: I think this sets a different tone. What's happened with U.S. women's soccer as it relates to equal pay is a benchmark for what I think will be happening in all of sports because it creates a dynamic in which the men's and women's team want to partner. So this is a monumental opportunity for us collectively as a team. You know, we talk a lot about team sports. Are we addressing this as a team sport as it relates to humanity? And I think that's what we're witnessing in real time.

PFEIFFER: That's NPR's host of The Limits, Jay Williams. Jay, thank you.

WILLIAMS: Thank you, Sacha.

PFEIFFER: The new episode of The Limits with the full Megan Rapinoe conversation airs Tuesday, May 31. Transcript provided by NPR, Copyright NPR.

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