NEW YORK — United States women’s national team coach Jill Ellis voiced her support of the players’ recently-filed federal class-action lawsuit against the U.S. Soccer Federation
“Obviously, I work for the federation. I think they’ve done amazing things in terms of promoting, developing and evolving the women’s game, so there’s a lot of positives. I’m also a woman and I also recognize moments where we have to continue to push the envelope,” Ellis said Saturday at the SheBelieves summit at Nike’s New York headquarters, a day-long event featuring sessions with notable women, who share personal and professional insights. “I think it’s not hard to navigate because I’m in that world, and my players, they know I support them.”
In addition to inviting women who are leaders in various industries to speak to college students, the event hosted past and present members of the U.S. women’s national team, including Ellis, defender Crystal Dunn and former players and current Fox analysts Aly Wagner and Leslie Osborne. Topics of discussion varied from the lawsuit to being women in a male-dominated sports world and the upcoming Women’s World Cup.
Osborne and Wagner joined Ellis in support of the players’ lawsuit seeking equal pay from the federation and an end to years of alleged gender-based discrimination.
Osborne told Pro Soccer USA she believes the federation is in a tough position because of the timing and the publicity of the lawsuit.
“A lot of teams, a lot of women in the workplace, everyone’s watching and they’re using this leverage and platform that they have to change something,” Osborne said. “What I think is just the best part about is that they’re staying together. They’re unified as a team and I think that unity is going to carry them.”
The U.S. women’s national team’s influence and relevance in American sports, particularly in a World Cup year, is hardly up for debate. Even before the lawsuit, the members of the team had been labeled as role models for young women across the globe. Wagner thinks that tag suits the players currently on the team.
“I like the idea that women that have worked hard toward something, that have put in sacrifice to get to where they are, are role models,” Wagner said. “Everyone’s going to have a unique role model that they’re going to gravitate toward, and that’s why it’s really cool with a team . .. there’s a bunch of different personalities that people can look up to. At the end of the day, those players have to embrace that status, and I think they do, and I think that’s one of the reasons that our nation falls in love with these players.”
Dunn did not grant interviews during the event, but spoke during the “Breaking Barriers: Leaders in Sport” panel moderated by Wagner. Dunn, who is on the most recent U.S. roster and plays for the North Carolina Courage in the National Women’s Soccer League, talked about having few players of color to look up to on the national team growing up and about the growing diversity of the team in recent years.
“The thing about sports is that it almost puts you in a position to come across so many different people of different walks of life,” Dunn said. “I come across a ton of women around the world [in] training, and it’s becoming a way more diverse group. … It is difficult when you only see the same types of people and things like that, but when everyone comes together and from so many different walks of life — so many different shades, colors, everything — in the conversation, that’s what the norm becomes.”
Dunn is likely to make her first World Cup roster after being one of the final players cut from the 2015 roster. Wagner asked her about the snub, winning the 2015 NWSL golden boot award and the trip to the Olympics that followed. Dunn called the experience “a reality check.”
“As women, we all just come into the world feeling like we just have to do so much extra that men don’t have to think about or anything like that,” Dunn said. “It’s also built in us to be so hard on ourselves, and I think four years ago I was so hard on myself.
“I actually went on to have my most successful career years, and I think that’s a prime example of turning a not-so-great situation into something that’s incredibly amazing.”
While Dunn and Ellis are focused on preparing to defend the team’s World Cup title in a few months, Wagner and Osborne are preparing to broadcast the tournament to the American audience. Brushing up on the tournament’s other 23 teams is part of that process, as is keeping eyes on who might eventually lift the trophy in less than four months in France.
“I just think that this is going to be a very exciting, but I think this one’s open,” Osborne said. “I think there could be six teams that could possibly win it, which I don’t know if I ever went into a World Cup and thought that before.”
In addition to the reigning champion USWNT, both mentioned host France as a possible winner, though Osborne is not convinced of the team’s ability to handle the pressure. Wagner also pointed to England’s recent victory at the SheBelieves Cup — the U.S. placed second in the four-team international tournament held in the weeks leading to the summit — as a sign the Lionesses could win the World Cup. Wagner then called Osborne’s choice “safe,” and the two eventually agreeing the U.S. will be the world champion once again.
“I just don’t put anything past the U.S.,” Osborne said. “We’ve got the talent. We have the depth. You’ve got the attacking player. We just have players that can step up. I just don’t know if all those pieces are going to fall in at the right time like it did last World Cup.”