By Frank Pingue
(Reuters) - The U.S. women's national soccer team (USWNT) have been handed $1 million from a small California-based athletic apparel company so they can get a taste of being rewarded like their male counterparts as they fight for equal pay.
After watching the recently-released "LFG" documentary that chronicles the USWNT's battle for equal pay, Title Nine founder and Chief Executive Missy Park was so "ticked off" she decided to write the biggest cheque in her company's 32-year history.
"This women's soccer team has dominated the sport like no other, they really are a national treasure," Park told Reuters in a video interview.
"And watching that documentary, the U.S. Soccer Federation are paying them like second-class citizens. I was just like 'wow'."
Over a five-year period since 2016, the players have been paid $64 million less than they would have been paid under the men's compensation structure, Title Nine said in a news release.
The USWNT sued U.S. soccer's governing body in 2019 over allegations of gender discrimination in compensation and nearly every other aspect of their playing conditions.
Months later they won a fourth World Cup as fans chanted "equal pay" during the final.
The lawsuit, which sought $66 million in damages under the Equal Pay Act, was dismissed but the USWNT have since appealed.
Park, who named her company after Title IX, the landmark 1972 U.S. law that lifted barriers to girls and women in education and school sports, said the money would go to the 22 players on the team competing at the Tokyo Olympics.
By Park's calculations, the money will put the USWNT on the same pay scale as the men's national team -- who they have vastly outperformed -- for a period of six games.
Park said Title Nine will also match all contributions up to an additional $250,000 made through the "Kick In for Equal Pay http://www.kickinforequalpay.com" initiative that will transfer donations to a fund managed by the U.S. Women's National Soccer Team Players Association (USWNTPA).
"At first I was like, they are going to get this worked out in the courts, the U.S. Soccer Federation is going to step up and somebody is going to fix it," said Park. "Then I realized there is something that we can do about it.
"We looked at a lot of the numbers ... and we came to this figure. That's a lot of dough. It's a lot of dough for a small company like ours," added Park, who played basketball at Yale University and was an early beneficiary of Title IX.
Park, whose company has 19 retail stores across 10 states, said she told the USWNTPA that independently-owned Title Nine does not want anything in exchange for the money.
"I don't want an endorsement, I don't want a sponsorship. I don't want to have a beer with your players," Park said she told the USWNTPA.
"We don't sponsor athletes of any sort, ever. We don't play in this game, I don't think we'll ever play it again. For me, it was one of those things where, if we can do this my hope is it will it will encourage others."
USWNTPA Executive Director Becca Roux said the team were humbled by Title Nine's contribution, which is the largest the players association has ever received to support the players' fight for equal pay.
"Brands have significant power to impact the public dialogue on this important issue and we applaud Title Nine for stepping up and leading the effort to support the players and women in every industry," said Roux.
(Reporting by Frank Pingue in Toronto; Editing by Toby Davis)