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St. Louis soccer star and World Cup winner Lori Lawson cheers equal pay breakthrough

 Lori Lawson, left, poses with her teammates during a parade after their 2015 World Cup win
Courtesy of Lori Lawson
Lori Lawson, left, poses with her teammates during a parade after their 2015 World Cup win

Over Lori Lawson’s 15-year career in professional soccer, she saw the sport’s highest highs — winning a World Cup and an Olympic gold medal — but endured both lower pay and shoddier conditions than her male counterparts.

However, last week, the world of American soccer changed forever with the unveiling of the U.S. Soccer Federation’s new collective bargaining agreements with the men’s and women’s leagues. The agreement equalizes pay and bonuses across the leagues, including the sharing of World Cup bonus money across genders.

“This is a long time coming,” Lawson said on Monday’s St. Louis on the Air. “This is years and years of hard work.”

A St. Louis native, Lawson has indeed spent years advocating to end the pay disparity within the sport, something that she faced firsthand after helping the U.S. win a World Cup in 2015.

That year, a World Cup win for the women’s team meant a bonus of around $2 million. But the winning men’s team, Germany, took in $35 million. At the time, Lawson says she felt “very conflicted” about the pay disparity, as she and her teammates were celebrating the culmination of their efforts to reach the pinnacle of their sport – while also feeling shorted by it.

“We weren’t treated poorly; we were able to make a living playing a sport that we love,” she noted. “You never play for the dollar signs.”

During her playing days for the U.S. national team, Lawson couldn’t help but notice all the ways that male players were being valued while she and her teammates were left behind. “You're talking about just huge inequities between the men and women,” she said.

With the new equalized pay agreement, the men’s and women’s teams won’t just share their World Cup bonuses, but will operate under "identical economic terms” in structuring how teams share commercial and ticket revenue.

“That's the great thing about this collective bargaining agreement,” Lawson said. “Everything is equal now, and not just in terms of money: I think that's something that gets lost in the dialogue. The thing that we were fighting for most of all is equal treatment. We were fighting for equal travel arrangements, equal hotel accommodations, equal staffing, things like that.”

During Monday’s show, Lawson also pointed to the critical role of the men’s league in bringing pay equity to U.S. soccer. Their involvement, she said, “was incredibly powerful.”

“They were behind the women completely in this,” she said. “They came to the table with U.S. Soccer and said, ‘We will not settle for anything less than equality for the women.’”

Lawson retired from U.S. Soccer in 2015, not long after cementing her name in the history of the sport with her team’s World Cup win. She now serves as head coach of Maryville University women's soccer.

“You always want to push for more,” she said, reflecting on the yearslong efforts to bring pay equity to U.S. soccer. “You want to push so that future generations have more than you had.”

St. Louis on the Air” brings you the stories of St. Louis and the people who live, work and create in our region. The show is hosted by Sarah Fenske and produced by Emily Woodbury, Kayla Drake, Danny Wicentowski and Alex Heuer. Avery Rogers is our production assistant. The audio engineer is Aaron Doerr.

Copyright 2022 St. Louis Public Radio. To see more, visit St. Louis Public Radio.

Danny Wicentowski