TACOMA — One word Megan Rapinoe used was “massive.” Another was “surreal.” Also, “monumental” and “amazing.”

In the context of her two-decades-long career as a stalwart of women’s soccer in the United States, and her fundamental role in the even longer fight for pay equality, it’s not surprising that Rapinoe was overjoyed with Wednesday’s historic new collective bargaining agreement with the U.S. Soccer Federation.

The CBA for the first time mandates an equal split in World Cup prize money, which will now be pooled and divided equally between the men’s and women’s national teams once the USSF takes its cut. That is the cornerstone of what the women have been seeking all along — a quest that included a contentious lawsuit and a complaint with the Equal Employment Opportunity Commission filed in 2016 by Rapinoe and four other women’s national team stars.

“I don’t think you can overstate how huge this is not just for us, but hopefully, kind of setting a new tone going forward,” said Rapinoe, speaking Friday after a training session of her OL Reign squad at Bellarmine Prep High School.

Beyond just the World Cup, the CBA codifies identical compensation in all competitions, and ensures that commercial revenue also be shared equally. It’s being hailed as a groundbreaking triumph not just for women’s soccer, but for all women in the workplace.

It’s somewhat ironic that Rapinoe, who is 36 and nearing the end of her brilliant run with the U.S. national team, won’t be reaping many of the financial benefits of this new arrangement she fought so hard for. But Rapinoe revels in the legacy she’ll be leaving for the next generation of U.S. women’s soccer, just as the previous generation started the quest.


“I feel like we’re just building blocks on each other,” Rapinoe said. “I think this fighting spirit that we have, and just our inability and unwillingness to quit or take less, or to be quiet about the inequities that we face, comes from them — ‘91, and ‘95 and ’99 [previous World Cup teams]. And all of those players that came before — that’s the DNA, that’s the fabric, that’s why we’re here fighting the way that we are.

“I know they won’t see the benefits of it. I’ll barely see the benefits of it. But I hope everybody takes pride in knowing that they were a huge part in hopefully seismically shifting soccer in this country for women.”

To do so took a change of heart by, among others, the U.S. men’s national team, which over the years had demonstrated resistance to equalizing the pay scale. The former head of the USSF, Carlos Cordeiro, resigned over the fallout from legal filings disparaging the women’s national team, including one that said the women “do not perform equal work requiring equal skill [and] effort” because “the overall soccer-playing ability required to compete at the senior men’s national team level is materially influenced by the level of certain physical attributes such as speed and strength.”

Despite the vast disparity in success on the international stage — the U.S. women have won four of the eight Women’s World Cups and four of the seven Olympic gold medals, and the men have barely made a ripple in either event — the men still generate more revenue. That’s a common point made by those who don’t support equal pay for the women’s team, but it should be noted that a significant reason for the financial difference is a longtime absence of media coverage, which largely generates fan interest and, eventually, revenue.

According to ESPN, the entire bonus pool for the 2022 World Cup in Qatar will be $400 million, and the bonuses for the women’s tournament in Australia in 2023 will be $60 million. In the previous World Cup cycle, the last-place men’s team won more prize money than the first-place women’s team.

There are other details of this new agreement that sweeten the pot for the men and lessen the impact of the revenue they’ll be ceding to the women. But some members of the men’s team have said they see this as an equity issue and simply the right thing to do.


Rapinoe hopes the men will come to view it as a win-win situation for the sport and an opportunity for them to reap financial benefits as well.

“I mean, it’s great to see,” she said of the men signing off on this new arrangement. “Obviously, they haven’t been the most vocal supporters of this for a long time. And so for both of our labor unions to come together and to be able to do this together … I mean, I’ve said for a long time: ‘If they’re screwing us out of this money, you guys probably aren’t getting your fair share, either.’ So I think it’s great moving forward.

“I think it’s hard to quantify who’s been more successful, who’s responsible for the growth of soccer in the country. I think both of us at different times have done something that the other side could not, and the other side wasn’t capable of. So I feel like us together, obviously, is the strongest. Hopefully they feel like that as well and see the benefit in joining forces and ultimately making soccer in this country one of the best sports we have.”

This new deal may actually serve as a unifier for the two squads, because it is now in their mutual financial interest to see the other succeed. And it was also a case where they coalesced around a shared foe.

“It’s obviously no secret, we haven’t had as much support from the men’s team as we would have liked,” Rapinoe said. “And in the past there’s been comments thrown around. But I think this time, it was really clear that we both kind of had our beefs with the federation. And a way to move forward for all of us was to come together. I don’t think a split labor force ever gets more done than a unified one.”

Ultimately, it will be Rapinoe’s Reign teammates, such as midfielder Rose Lavelle, 27; center back Alana Cook, 25; and other up-and-coming members of the women’s national team who will reap most of the benefits of the new deal. And that’s perfectly fine with Rapinoe and by extension her veteran teammates.


“I’m not like a martyr or anything,” she said. “I’ve certainly benefited financially from the whole landscape and environment that is right now. But if I play another year or two, I’ll get a year or two out of the contract out of my entire career.

“Obviously, there’s a settlement from the lawsuit, but I think all of us realized very quickly that this would be the last CBA that we would probably be involved in and be able to participate in. But this is some really cool legacy stuff for our group of players who, on the field and off, I think has been as successful as any group of players ever.”

You might call it massive, monumental and amazing. Not to mention surreal. Yet very, very real.