- Shireen Ahmedwriter, public speaker and award-winning sports activist.
- Amira Rose Davisassistant professor of history and African American studies at Penn State University.
The U.S. national women’s soccer team made history by winning its record fourth World Cup after defeating the Netherlands 2 to 0 on Sunday in Lyon, France. The U.S. women’s World Cup victory came just months after members of the 2015 women’s team sued the U.S. Soccer Federation over gender discrimination. Following the victory, audience members began to chant “equal pay” in solidarity with the team’s demands for an equal salary to their male counterparts. Prize money for this year’s Women’s World Cup is just $30 million compared to $400 million for the 2018 men’s World Cup. Co-captain Megan Rapinoe was awarded the Golden Ball and the Golden Boot awards for best player and top goal scorer. Rapinoe has been the center of attention throughout the tournament. Before games she refused to sing the national anthem or put her hand on her heart. She also made headlines for saying she would refuse to go to the White House if invited. We speak with Shireen Ahmed, award-winning sports activist focusing on Muslim women in sports, and Amira Rose Davis, assistant professor of history and African American studies at Penn State University.
AMY GOODMAN: The U.S. national women’s soccer team made history by winning its record fourth World Cup after defeating the Netherlands 2 to 0 on Sunday. Soon after the game ended, members of the crowd began chanting “Equal Pay! Equal Pay!”
CROWD: Equal pay! Equal pay! Equal pay! Equal pay! Equal pay! Equal pay!
AMY GOODMAN: Prize money for this year’s Women’s World Cup is just $30 million, compared to $400 million for the 2018 men’s World Cup. The U.S. women World Cup victory came just months after members of the 2015 women’s team sued the U.S. Soccer Federation over gender discrimination. On Sunday, co-captain Megan Rapinoe spoke to the media shortly after she was awarded the Golden Ball and Golden Boot awards for best player and top goal scorer.
MEGAN RAPINOE: We’ve done exactly what we set out to do. We’ve done exactly what we want to do. We say what we feel. All of us, really. I know that my voice sometimes is louder, but, you know, in meal rooms and in conversations, everybody is in this together. We are such a proud and strong and defiant group of women. I don’t think we have really anything to say.
AMY GOODMAN: Megan Rapinoe has been the center of attention throughout the World Cup. Before the games, she refused to sing the national anthem or put her hand on her heart. She also made headlines for saying she would refuse to go to the White House if invited by President Trump. Rapinoe first told Eight by Eight magazine, quote, “I’m not going to the f—ing White House.”
MEGAN RAPINOE: I’m not going to the [bleep] White House. No, I’m not going to the White House. That’s—we’re not going to be invited.
REPORTER: You’re not going to be invited?
MEGAN RAPINOE: I doubt it.
AMY GOODMAN: Megan Rapinoe later defended her comments at a news conference during the Women’s World Cup.
MEGAN RAPINOE: I stand by the comments that I made about not wanting to go to the White House, with the exception of the expletive. My mom will be very upset about that. But I think, obviously, entering with a lot of passion, considering how much time and effort and pride we take in the platform that we have and using it for good and for leaving the game in a better place, and hopefully the world in a better place, I don’t think that I would want to go, and I would encourage my teammates to think hard about lending that platform or having that co-opted by an administration that doesn’t feel the same way and doesn’t fight for the same things that we fight for.
AMY GOODMAN: In 2016, Megan Rapinoe became the first major white athlete to—one of the first major, to kneel during the national anthem before a game as a player with her team, Seattle Reign. She’s also an outspoken advocate for LGBTQ rights.
While the House Speaker Nancy Pelosi has invited the team to Capitol Hill, it remains unclear if President Trump will extend an invitation to the White House. On Sunday, he said, quote, “We haven’t really thought about it,” although previously said he would invite the women’s team, whether they won or lost.
Well, for more, we’re joined by two guests. Shireen Ahmed is a writer, public speaker, award-winning sports activist focusing on Muslim women in sports and the intersections of racism and misogyny in sport. And Amira Rose Davis is an assistant professor of history and African American studies at Penn State. She’s currently working on a book entitled Can’t Eat a Medal: The Lives and Labors of Black Women Athletes in the Age of Jim Crow. They’re both part of a team of five women who created the weekly Burn It All Down sports podcast.
We welcome you both to Democracy Now! Shireen, let’s begin with you. Your response to the women’s soccer win, once again, on Sunday?
SHIREEN AHMED: I think it was fantastic. The match itself was exciting. I mean, it’s been an incredible five weeks. What I love most about the win, I think, is that—the way that this U.S. women’s national team has brought forth the idea that sports are inherently political, that women’s sports are inherently political, sports for marginalized folks are inherently political. And it’s a constant and not very subtle, but very effective reminder of that. And that’s one of the biggest takeaways of the entire tournament.
AMY GOODMAN: And, Amira Rose Davis, your response to this historic win? This one, after last year’s [sic]—I mean, the women’s soccer team has won four World Cups.
AMIRA ROSE DAVIS: Yes, certainly. And if you think about the pressure that they put on their own shoulders by going into this World Cup after filing a gender discrimination suit, based largely on saying, “We’re winning, and we’re not being paid equitably,” they put enormous pressure on their shoulders. And as Shireen alluded to, they are very much embracing the fact that sports is inherently political, as many athletes do. But I think this team, in particular, has a keen awareness of the fact that their platform, by virtue of their overwhelming whiteness and the issues that they’re speaking about, has the ability to really drive home how political sports are and what they are fighting for, both on and off the pitch.
AMY GOODMAN: And I want to talk more about that in a minute. I wanted to go directly, though, to Megan Rapinoe, who launched a scathing attack on FIFA, saying the organization does not respect the female game. Rapinoe said FIFA’s decision to allow the Copa America final and the Gold Cup final to take place on the same day as the women’s final was unbelievable. She also raised the issue of winnings and equal pay for women players.
MEGAN RAPINOE: It certainly is not fair. We should double it now and then use that number to double it for—you know, or quadruple it for the next time, obviously. I mean, I think that’s what I mean when we talk about do we feel respected. You know, earlier in the year, or maybe it was last year, a quote came out that I said FIFA doesn’t care about the women’s game. And that’s what I mean. So, if you really care about each game in the same way, are you letting the gap grow? I’m not saying that the prize money is $450 million this time or next time around. You know, I understand that for a lot of different reasons the men’s game financially is far advanced than the women’s game. But, I mean, if you really care, are you letting the gap grow? I mean, are you scheduling three finals on the same day?
AMY GOODMAN: On Friday, FIFA President Gianni Infantino proposed doubling the total prize money of the World Cup to $60 million. The men’s games in Russia last year, featuring 32 teams, had total prize money of $400 million. That amount for the men will rise to $440 million for the Qatar World Cup in 2022. Shireen, if you can respond to this, to the whole issue? I mean, it is quite astounding, this convergence of events, the lawsuit against the U.S. Soccer Federation around equal pay, which will reverberate far beyond soccer, that call as—you know, coming at the time of this World Cup win and clearly demonstrating that the women’s sport is raising more money than the men’s team, that didn’t even qualify for the World Cup.
SHIREEN AHMED: Well, Amy, there’s a couple of things. I mean, first of all, the record for the highest-watched game in the history of the United States is from the women’s team, a match from 2015, the final against Japan. Secondly, the merchandise that the women sell is the highest-selling merchandise in the U.S.A. It’s not the men’s kit.
But in response directly to what Rapinoe has said about pay equity, pay equity is actually just one of the issues that FIFA has managed to completely spoil consistently. And pay equity, lack of planning—and just to be very clear, it wasn’t only FIFA that misplaced and mistimed three finals on the same day; CONCACAF and CONMEBOL are also responsible for this. So, this is just to reinforce the fact that federations all over the world—not just FIFA—national federations and organizations, are responsible, because, very frankly, the head of all these federations are men, and they’re making decisions that affect the women’s game and that negatively affect the women—the players, the teams, the fans—and inconvenience them.
FIFA has a history. I have like a huge dossier on what they have done to disservice the women’s game, everything from not supporting alleges of sexualized violence in Afghanistan in that federation, not supporting women trying to seek access to stadiums in Iran, everything from women in African continental teams not getting paid by their federations. It’s just one thing after the other that FIFA is implicit in.
And so, Megan Rapinoe was very clear. Are you growing the gap of pay equity? Are you doing what you can to ensure and advocate for the players? Absolutely, FIFA is not.
AMY GOODMAN: And just explain the difference between FIFA and the U.S. Soccer Federation, which is the entity that the women’s team is suing.
SHIREEN AHMED: Well, the women are actually directly suing their employers, so that would be the USSF, the U.S. Soccer Federation, which actually falls under the umbrella of FIFA. Like, if we look at a pyramid, which I think is very appropriate, if we think about the way that these power structures work, FIFA is at the top. So, those federations—so, USSF would be, you know, in charge of the women—they do fall under the umbrella of FIFA. But FIFA is not directly responsible for negotiating contracts with the players; that’s up to the federation.
So, effectively, the players of the U.S. women’s national team are unhappy, and setting an incredible precedent for women around the world to say, “We want equal pay. We want fairness. We want to talk about rights, maternity leave. We want to talk about healthcare. We want to talk about anti-racism, anti-homophobia, anti-oppression.” That’s what they’re doing. So it’s a really important case.
AMY GOODMAN: Amira Rose Davis, you mentioned the whiteness of the team. If you can talk more about this, how the team is constituted, and also a number of the women’s activism around this? I mean, Megan Rapinoe being one of the first white athletes to support Colin Kaepernick in bending the knee—in taking the knee. She, too, took a knee. And that has now seemed to have morphed into that amazing image before the game yesterday, which she has done over and over. When “The Star-Spangled Banner” is played, she doesn’t sing like the other players, and she doesn’t put her hand on her heart. Amira?
AMIRA ROSE DAVIS: Certainly. And I think that it’s also really important to note that their gender discrimination suit is but one of many women of multiple federations employing a wide range of protest tactics. We’ve seen women from Argentina, from Puerto Rico take the field and refuse to play. We’ve seen Ada Hegerberg, who’s the world’s best player right now, refuse to even play in the World Cup. So I just want to put that, what Shireen was saying, in context, to say that the women’s national team’s lawsuit is but one way that women in the global sport of women’s football are pushing back against these federations who aren’t giving them the same resources and infrastructures.
And to your question about the composition of this team, I think, again, it’s important to note that in the United States the access issue to soccer is vast. It takes a lot of money, very early on, in youth sports. And one of the consequences of that is that we don’t see a large amount of diversity and lower-income players represented on the team. We have five women of color on this team. That’s more than we’ve had in recent years. We have woefully underrepresented groups in Latinx players on the women’s national team, as well as Asian-American players. That hasn’t always been the case.
But I think it also points to the fact that this team has been very vocal about all of their intersecting identities. When asked to put names on the back of their jerseys to honor various women, for instance, Rapinoe chose Audre Lorde and said, “She’s an intersectional feminist, and that’s what I want my politics to be.” Christen Press, one of the women of color on the team, said, “This is about pay equity. It’s about gender equality. But we also are talking about racial equity here. We’re also talking about what’s going on in terms of why Rapinoe chose to kneel.” And she’s very clear about being an ally, in saying, you know, “Yes, these are my fights, and I’m bringing a lot of clear visibility, and I’m talking a lot about pay equity, but I also am acknowledging the fact that I’m not policed in the same way, and I’m not dealing with relatives being shot dead in the street.” And even when asked how she felt about patriotism, she’s like, “I feel deeply American, but we have to reckon with the fact that this country was founded on slavery.”
And so, that insistence on the fact that what they’re talking about, even if pay equity might get more attention, they’re not divorcing it from struggles that they’re seeing, say, the WNBA really picking up Black Lives Matter, etc., etc. They’re not divorcing what they’re doing and how they’re bringing political activism from these other strands of groups who are saying, “Yeah, we’re going to use sport to talk about the things that we see that are wrong in our country.”
AMY GOODMAN: Megan Rapinoe told American Soccer Now, quote, “Being a gay American, I know what it means to look at the flag and not have it protect all of your liberties. It was something small that I could do and something that I plan to keep doing in the future and hopefully spark some meaningful conversation around it. It’s important to have white people stand in support of people of color on this,” she said.
Also, this issue of going to Washington? Shireen Ahmed, let me put that question to you. So, President Trump is confused. A little while ago, a week or two ago, he said that he’s inviting the women’s soccer team, “win or lose.” Then he was asked about it this weekend. He said he hasn’t thought about inviting the women’s soccer team to the White House. Meanwhile, Nancy Pelosi, the House speaker, tweeted today that she’s inviting the whole team to the Capitol. Can you talk about the significance of all of this? The team showing their support for Megan Rapinoe saying she wouldn’t go to the White House—you had, among those who spoke out, Ali Krieger defending Rapinoe’s comments, saying, about Trump, she refused to respect a man that warrants no respect.
SHIREEN AHMED: Yes, actually. And just to reiterate what Dr. Davis was saying, that the intentionality of what’s happening from this team is very much exemplified by Megan Rapinoe. And what she has basically done is said that the struggles—the resistance and the struggles of marginalized groups are very tightly bound together. So, Megan Rapinoe doesn’t only talk about LGBTIQ issues. She talks about racial inequality. She talks about class structure. She talks about all of these things.
And, I mean, “confused” is a very generous way to describe Donald Trump, in my opinion. I mean, he’s backtracked, and he’s backpedaled, and he’s been completely embarrassed, because coming out and saying—you know, he actually tweeted at Megan Rapinoe last week, after the interview came out, and he kept including statistics on how he has helped African Americans, because it was my impression and that from other journalists that he was actually confusing her with an African-American player. He didn’t even know who she was.
Now he knows who she is. She’s a Golden Boot winner. She’s a Golden Ball winner. And she’s a World Cup winner again. So, I mean, I think that not only has Rapinoe and this entire team, including Ali Krieger, including Christen Press, gone forward and said, “This is who we are. These are our identities, and we’re not going to settle,” I think it’s brilliant for them to set a precedent. And Megan Rapinoe said it best: She doesn’t want their action to be co-opted. And she is very much showing what it’s like in terms of allyship, what is required. And it’s not just talk. It’s action. It’s mobilization. It’s what—in addition to winning the most incredible tournament, sporting tournament, in women’s football, this is what these players are doing. So, it will be really interesting to see how the administration responds.
AMY GOODMAN: And finally, Professor Amira Rose Davis, the possibility of there being a strike by this World Cup-winning team as they move into the Olympics, if they’re not satisfied with a deal with the U.S. Soccer Federation around equal pay, and the possibility of legislation? They’re invited to the Capitol. Will this lead to legislation around pay equity in general, maybe even passage of the Equal Rights Amendment?
AMIRA ROSE DAVIS: Yeah, certainly. You know, I think some of the biggest labor victories that we’ve seen over the past few years have been in the arena of women’s sports, whether it’s getting equal pay and maternity rights for women athletes, or the women’s national hockey team, who also went on strike before a big tournament to up their pay. And I think that that’s what you’re seeing in this moment, in this possibility. They know that they are taking a calculated risk by putting these lawsuits on the biggest stage, but they’re earning it. They’re getting out there, and they’re saying, “Not only are we filing this, but we’re going to back it up on the pitch, so you can’t ignore us.”
And I think that you’re exactly right to earmark the Olympics. They are going into mediation, and we’ll see. But they have this bargaining chip because they know they have the eyes of the world upon them going into a tournament next year. They have good leverage right now.
And I think some of the things that they call for go beyond pay equity. It’s also about: Are they getting the same per diem pay for food? Are they getting the same travel accommodations? Are they being forced to play on turf? So, while we talk about equal pay and you hear those chants, there’s a lot to unpack in what they’re saying for gender discrimination. And what they’re really pointing to is that it’s about a full structure of resources, not just pay, that really disadvantages working women.
And so, you know, hopefully, with more attention on this, they’ve shown they’re capable of taking that attention and propelling it and powering it into other issues. So it would be tremendous, certainly, for them to connect this to other labor struggles and also push this forward into structural change, and, as you mentioned, perhaps even finally getting that ERA passed.
AMY GOODMAN: Amira Rose Davis, I want to thank you for being with us, assistant professor of history and women’s, gender and sexuality studies at Penn State University, and Shireen Ahmed, writer and award-winning sports activist, focusing on Muslim women in sport and the intersections of racism and misogyny in sports. They’re both part of a team of five women who created the weekly Burn It All Down podcast.
When we come back, billionaire hedge fund manager Jeffrey Epstein has been arrested on sex trafficking charges. This comes more than a decade after he received what has been described as “one of the most lenient deals for a serial child sex offender in history,” facilitated by the man who is now President Trump’s labor secretary. Stay with us.