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Not Since Billie Jean and Bobby

July 14, 2019

 

Where were you when Megan Rapinoe, captain of the USA Soccer team (let the men use the defining gender adjective), took one deep breath, moved her body to the right and kicked left, powering a penalty kick past Holland's brilliant goalkeeper to break a 0-0 deadlock in the championship game of the 2019 World Cup? 

Where were you a few minutes later when midfielder Rose Lavelle wove her way through multiple defenders to score a legendary, solo goal, putting her team up 2-0 and assuring USA Soccer its 4th World Cup? 

Did you get goosebumps, as I did, listening to the sold-out stadium crowd chanting not just "USA, USA", at the end, but "EQUAL PAY, EQUAL PAY!"

And where were you when pink-haired Rapinoe, captain of this brash, confident team that has strutted onto the world stage and earned a permanent place in our hearts, took the podium, following a ticker tape parade in New York's "Canyon of Champions," and challenged all of us to seize this euphoric national moment as an opportunity to come together and move our society forward? 

"We have to be better. We have to love more. Hate less. We've got to listen more and talk less," she told the cheering crowd. "There has been so much contention in these last few years. . . It is time to come together. This conversation is at the next step."

THE "CONVERSATION" she's talking about is much bigger than sports victories. Rapinoe, Lavelle, Alex Morgan and their teammates all understand very clearly the platform they have achieved and the responsibility they have embraced to use their voices and influence, not only to fight for equal pay, but to hold our culture's feet to a much bigger fire: GENDER EQUALITY. 

As Rapinoe put it, "Yes, we play sports.  Yes, we play soccer.  Yes, we are female athletes, but we are so much more than that. . . We have pink hair and purple hair. We have tattoos. Dreadlocks. We got white girls and black girls and everything in between! Straight girls and gay girls." 

NOT SINCE BILLIE JEAN KING SILENCED Bobby Riggs and his chauvinistic blatherings about male superiority with her 1973 tennis victory in the legendary "Battle of the Sexes, witnessed by millions, has there been a defining sports moment that has so stunningly toppled deeply-ingrained gender stereotypes and instantly changed the conversation about women's place in the world. We are in a new place. 

But there is a critical difference that sets the long-term impact of this 2019 World Cup moment apart from the accomplishment of Billie Jean King, who was also fighting for equal pay for women's tennis. BJK did it alone. She was a powerful and inspiring symbol of possibility for a generation of girls (me included). A solitary, super woman.   

But USA Soccer's achievement was a team victory. An example to the world of what powerful, talented focused women working collectively can accomplish. Black girls, white girls, straight girls, gay girls and everything in between! They are the affirmation, as USA Today sports columnist Christine Brennan put it, of "...all the goodness that comes from raising another generation of strong, intelligent, fearless and successful women through sports." 

If you missed the games, you missed something very special. But you will not miss the cultural impact of what these leaders have done. Because they are as clear about the power of their voices and their right to use them to demand equality as they are about the power of their strong bodies and ability to defeat whatever obstacles are thrown at them. 

AND HERE'S THE BEST PART. USA Women's Soccer is merely a symbol of things to come. The tip of icebergs of new generations of women -- Millennials and Gen Z's and their daughters -- who will not settle for second class status. 

This Baby Boomer is thrilled to pass the leadership torch. But I have no intention of retiring from the fight. I will cover their flanks and have their backs as we collectively move forward toward our shared goal: Equality for all!

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