EDITOR IN CHIEF
Megan Rapinoe has become a household name. But, before she was a U.S. women’s soccer World Cup champion forward, she was a college athlete.
The University of Portland graduate is no different from the women athletes who play at the University of Nebraska at Omaha (UNO). In fact, she probably started out very similarly; with a love for the game, a determined spirit—and like many other women in any field, a tenacity in the face of an unjust industry with heart eyes for the guys.
UNO track and field athlete Ana Bellinghausen said her first reaction to the women’s World Cup win was “pure happiness and pride.”
“Nobody could have written a better story for that women’s team than they did themselves,” Bellinghausen said. “It gave me inspiration to keep going in my sport of track, one that is overlooked in the sports world, as well. I know those women faced the same struggle that I have, so I can’t help but smile for them.”
The struggle Bellinghausen refers to is a gender gap in athletics. The Women’s Sports Foundation cites a number of female players and coaches who make less than their male counterparts, despite obvious success in their respective fields, courts and ice rinks.
Rapinoe spent the team’s victory tour speaking out about the pay gap in women’s athletics, among other political topics. In an interview with Newsweek Rapinoe said: “The effects of equal pay is not just on the woman’s wallet. It’s on her children’s wallet, it’s on her community’s wallet. It’s sort of on the whole world. It affects men, too, I think a lot of guys don’t realize that. Every time a woman is not paid equally, everyone is not and nobody’s potential is able to be reached.”
UNO soccer player Abby Meader said college athletics are different than professional athletics, especially looking at the issue of equal pay. However, she said, it’s something that should be talked about and that the inequality Rapinoe speaks about is prominent in other ways for young women athletes.
“Being a woman in athletics can be hard when you see men’s sports having huge crowds and bringing a lot of people together,” Meader said. “With us, we don’t get as many people in the crowd, so we have to lean on each other and our teammates to get fired up for big games.”
While women athletes obviously have the stamina and potential to succeed, their support from outside sources—whether financial, emotional or otherwise—must be earned. They must win, succeed and shock the nation to receive the same amount of attention male athletes earn just by playing the game.
“I think the biggest problem is that nationally we only put a spotlight on women’s sports when they’re doing well in a worldwide competition such as the World Cup or Olympics,” UNO soccer and track athlete Erinoelle Clifton said. “If we promote women’s sports the way men’s sports are promoted, it would help. [At UNO], culturally, all the athletes support one another, but there is definitely a difference in the way the men are treated as opposed to women facility and opportunity-wise.”
Slowly but surely, the gender gap is being closed. According to CNBC, the US viewership of the 2019 Women’s World Cup final was 22 percent higher than the 2018 men’s final, and while this could be attributed to the entertaining success of the USWNT, it speaks volumes.
“I think that female athletes have always been special in the sense that they have been driven and motivated to compete despite the fact that they might not receive the fame, fortune and notoriety of their male counterparts,” UNO associate head soccer coach Kelly Farrell said. “They’ve always had to be intrinsically motivated; truly playing for the love of the game, their teammates, the school or club they represent and not the driving force of becoming rich and famous through their athletic endeavors.
While Farrell said she believes the tides are turning and she is seeing a level of empowerment in female athletes like never before, there remains a need to close a needlessly gendered gap.
“These female athletes are still putting their bodies and lives on the line; pay them equally,” Bellinghausen said. “To level the playing field between men and women sports, I think the media needs to step up their coverage. Then, give kids female role models, take them to swim meets, track meets, tennis matches. Show them a variety of sports and athletes to look up to from all walks of life. Once I see little boys looking up to female athletes, I’ll know our society is improving.”
For the Mavericks—and the best women soccer players in the world—they all have the same goal.