A high school girls varsity soccer team in Vermont was penalized during a game for making a bold statement.
The Burlington High School Seahorses were about three minutes away from the end of their Friday match when the team’s captain, Helen Worden, scored a goal, putting them ahead of their competitors, the South Burlington Wolves. Four players then ran toward the stand in celebration and took off their blue uniforms, revealing custom-made matching white shirts with a message: #EQUALPAY.
Anyone who takes off their jersey during a game receives an automatic yellow card, the Burlington Free Press reports, so the referee subsequently penalized all four players; in response to the penalty, teammate Lydia Sheeser told CNN that the crowd began to chant “'Equal pay! Equal pay!' just like in the Women's World Cup this summer."
Many of the chanting spectators were also wearing #equalpay shirts, which were part of the more than 500 jerseys that the BHS girls’ team sold for their ongoing fundraising campaign to raise awareness about the gender wage gap in sports. According to the Burlington Free Press, the girls originally planned to wear the white jerseys for their dress-up day, but word quickly spread beyond the schools’ halls to other BHS teams that immediately “wanted in.”
The girls soccer team said they were inspired by the U.S. women's national soccer team and "their efforts to achieve equal pay for equal play."
The U.S. women’s national team, which won the Women’s World Cup in July, has actively spoken out about the pervasive gender wage gap in sports. CNN reports that in the 2019 tournament, the U.S. champions received only $4 million, while in the 2018 Men's World Cup, the French tournament champions received $38 million.
The BHS girls' frustration over the gender pay disparity is what led to their partnership with Change the Story, an initiative to advance women’s economic status in Vermont, “to create a special run of Nike dry fit jerseys with #EqualPay on the front, the BHS Seahorse logo on one sleeve, and Change The Story on the other,” their website states.
The teammates told CNN that the response to their project has been overwhelmingly positive.
The initiative has now grown from a "soccer-only idea" to a widespread movement. Community members, including their school's staff and student body, have purchased the shirts. The BHS boys soccer team has also started wearing them at games and during warm-ups. Even Brandi Chastain, an Olympic and World Cup winner, has shown support on Twitter for the Burlington girls soccer team.
Each Nike shirt costs approximately $25, with men invited to pay 16 percent more ($4.80) to represent the current gender wage gap for Vermont women. And due to popular demand, the girls are reportedly ordering another 300 shirts this week; they have received more than 1,000 orders to date.
“The idea is to wear these jerseys at a game, or event, and invite the community to come out and buy the shirts, and wear them in support of our fight for gender equality,” Sheeser said. “We are starting small, and we are hoping this will continue into a movement across VT.”
Cheers to this VT varsity soccer team for showing their support for #equalpay. A great first step toward a sustainable future for ALL women’s sports, & limitless careers for women in athletics. Bold, gutsy & brave. No risk, no reward! #GoForIt #KeepPlaying https://t.co/x5HVis84WE— Billie Jean King (@BillieJeanKing) October 21, 2019ADVERTISEMENT
Kudos to this amazing @BHS802 soccer team. You can wear your yellow cards with pride, because your cause is bigger than a game. Unequal pay also harms people of color, especially women of color. We need to change this story, so ALL people can take care of their families. #vtpoli https://t.co/qL5LMpwXC4— Rebecca Holcombe (@RHolcombeVT) October 20, 2019
Header photo courtesy of YouTube / Maia Vota
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Safire R. Sostre is a freelance journalist with experience in print and digital media. She writes reported profiles and covers news and culture, usually through the lenses of identity and wellness. Their main goal as a writer is to amplify the stories of marginalized voices.