Former USWNT player Briana Scurry on the decades-long soccer pay gap: ‘They didn’t want us to be equal

Briana Scurry, former U.S. Women’s National Soccer Team goalkeeper, has impeccable timing.

In 1994, her physical timing earned her the role of starting goalkeeper for the USWNT, for which she set a record 173 international appearances in the position and helped secure two Olympic gold medals.

Scurry’s most famous display of physical timing may have been during the 1999 FIFA Women’s World Cup final against China in Los Angeles, when she blocked Liu Ying’s overtime penalty kick, allowing Brandi Chastain to finalize the U.S.’s win and take home the team’s second championship. Penalty kicks are taken just 36 feet away from the goal and, traveling at a typical speed of 70 miles per hour, can give goalkeepers less than half a second to react.

Moments such as these earned Scurry a history-making deal with Nike, and solidified her spot not only in the U.S. Soccer Hall of Fame, but also the Smithsonian National Museum of African American History and Culture.

As she points out, her timing has also often put her in the right place at the right time to push for change — whether that be growing up with the benefits of Title IX or joining the USWNT during a period of increased visibility.

Scurry’s most famous display of physical timing may have been during the 1999 FIFA Women’s World Cup final against China in Los Angeles, when she blocked Liu Ying’s overtime penalty kick, allowing Brandi Chastain to finalize the U.S.’s win and take home the team’s second championship. Penalty kicks are taken just 36 feet away from the goal and, traveling at a typical speed of 70 miles per hour, can give goalkeepers less than half a second to react.

Moments such as these earned Scurry a history-making deal with Nike, and solidified her spot not only in the U.S. Soccer Hall of Fame, but also the Smithsonian National Museum of African American History and Culture.

As she points out, her timing has also often put her in the right place at the right time to push for change — whether that be growing up with the benefits of Title IX or joining the USWNT during a period of increased visibility.

“On the Women’s National Team, as soon as you put that jersey on, you are a crusader for pay equity. That’s just how it goes, you take up that mantle as something that’s as important as the quality of the football you’re playing on the pitch. And when you put your cleats away, you don’t put that mantle away,” Scurry says. “It’s something you take up when you come into the world if you’re a woman because it just seems to be that everywhere is inequitable. My flavor just happens to be women’s soccer and someone else’s is the corporate C-suite.”

CNBC Make It spoke with Scurry about the USWNT’s fight for equal pay and the time that progress takes.

“We’re still fighting for pay equality. I’m 50 years old. When I’m 80, I’m assuming that we still will be fighting for it,” she says. “These are journeys that take a very long time.”

School, soccer and Title IX
Growing up in Minnesota, Scurry played basketball and soccer but was inspired to pursue sport seriously while watching the 1980 Olympics when the United States Men’s Hockey Team beat the USSR during the “Miracle on Ice.”

“I told my mom and dad, ‘I want to be an Olympian!’” she remembers. “I ended up being the exact thing that I saw and that I wanted, but in terms of making a living at it, that’s not how I looked at it. I just wanted to be an Olympian, I had no idea what that meant.”

Scurry says she never imagined it would be possible to be a professional women’s soccer player because she had never seen it.

“It wasn’t something I thought I could make a living at,” she says. “Back then, it was amateur status, so no money. And then it changed in 1992, that was the first Olympics where they had professionals playing… Now young girls see Alex Morgan or Megan Rapinoe doing amazing things and they know exactly which sport they want to play and what it takes. We didn’t have that. We didn’t have role models in that way back then. My role models were basketball players.”

She also looked up to figures like Billie Jean King, who would later mentor the USWNT as they fought for pay equity. And though she continued to play basketball, Scurry was recruited to play soccer for the University of Massachusetts, Amherst.

“Soccer and goalkeeping just happened to be the thing I was better at and so that was my vehicle to get into college, and then subsequently to get on the national team,” says Scurry. “I didn’t even know there was a real [national team] until my sophomore year in college. It was sight unseen basically and this beautiful, serendipitous crossing between myself and the national team.”

This path to collegiate (and later international) soccer was made possible by Title IX, which requires all educational institutions that receive federal funds to offer equal opportunity in sports to men and women. It was passed in 1972 — just a year after Scurry was born.

“My timing was perfect in that regard. I am, and will always be, indebted to this law that made my life end up the way it did. It was truly instrumental. It was such a watershed moment,” says Scurry. “I don’t know if I would have gone to college without that scholarship.”

Scurry is currently writing a book, set to release next year, to commemorate the 50th anniversary of Title IX.

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