Over the last few weeks, the United States Women’s National Soccer Team was thrust into the national spotlight as they competed for the FIFA Women’s World Cup in host country France. If you’re someone like me who played soccer growing up and loves the game, you were following their journey intently through each stage of their fourth world championship title. Yet even many who are normally not avid soccer fans were also well aware of the team’s bid for the cup as coverage graced screens and media across America.
However, this quest for the World Cup by the USWNT notably turned into far more than your typical athletic contest—their crusade quickly began to stand for equality.
In March, a few months before the World Cup began, the entire team filed a lawsuit against the United States Soccer Federation for gender discrimination. The women’s team has been consistently paid far less than the men’s team, despite being much more successful and generating more revenue for the federation . The players have been vocal since then, defending their decision to stand up for themselves and fight for equal pay for future generations.
By the time the World Cup began in June, the media was keenly aware of the team’s struggle against the wage disparity. However, the wage dispute took a slight backseat throughout the tournament, as the players began to face scrutiny for their actions both on and off the field. When they soared past Thailand to a 13-0 victory in their first match of the group stage, they were criticized for taking such a large lead. They were told their post-goal celebrations were too extreme. And time and time again, comments by individual players were labeled as cocky or arrogant.
Yet while these publicity challenges held the possibility of drastically harming its reputation, the USWNT had comebacks ready for each accusation. They pointed out that backing down after taking a sizeable lead against Thailand would not only be detrimental to their own development, but also an insult to the Thai players on the biggest stage of women’s soccer. They reminded us that many male teams engage in far more elaborate, dramatic post-scoring celebrations than the women without criticism. And they maintained the notion that confidence does not equal arrogance and that it is high time women start recognizing their worth. They are the best in the world at what they do, after all, and it is time to stop apologizing for it.
In addition to overcoming multiple public relations obstacles throughout the tournament, the USWNT brand evolved to become something much bigger than women’s soccer, or even soccer in general. The players continued to be known for vocalizing their support for equality for all, notably women and the LGBTQ community. Due to the team’s activism and diversity, they began to be labeled as a team representative of all Americans. With trending hashtags like #OneNationOneTeam and slogans like “When this team wins, everyone wins,” the success of the USWNT has come to symbolize equal rights and a brighter future for the entire country.
On July 7 th , The United States Women’s National Team won their fourth World Cup. Directly after the final whistle, Nike aired this epic commercial . In addition, countless celebrities and public figures have voiced their support for and solidarity with the USWNT and its larger cause.
Both the team, the individual players, outside sponsors and supporters aided in branding this team as representative of all Americans and a symbol of a progressive future. With this strategy, the USWNT was able not only to combat negative media attention, but to turn it into something positive, uniting a nation behind them and their goals. This campaign displayed an impressive collaboration of multiple actors in an effort to create and sustain a brand that is powerful, relatable and inspirational to the American people. From the success of the image they created, we see the importance of a united front, the power of social media and the value of speaking up. And of winning, of course.
Emblematic of the narrative created by the USWNT, the aforementioned commercial from Nike concludes with the line, “I believe that we will keep fighting not just to make history, but to change it. Forever.”