Jill Ellis: “I’m also a woman and I also recognize moments when we have to continue to push the envelope. So, it’s not hard to navigate.” (Andy Mead/YCJ Photo)
By Michael Lewis
NEW YORK — Jill Ellis supports the U.S. women’s national team players’ gender equity lawsuit against the U.S. Soccer Federation.
Now, that doesn’t necessarily sound like big news. After all, it’s a woman backing other women.
What makes it unusual is that Ellis is head coach of the team and receives a regular paycheck from the federation.
“Obviously, I work for the federation,” Ellis said at the SheBelieves Summit Saturday afternoon. “I think they have 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 when we have to continue to push the envelope. So, it’s not hard to navigate. I’m in that world and my players they know O support them. Right now, all of our focus is going to be on the World Cu , and nothing will derail us from that.”
That would be the Women’s World Cup, which will be held in France in June and July.
Ellis said she did not know the suit would be filed Friday.
“I didn’t have any conversation,” she said. “The players met and obviously they are driving this. They didn’t call me prior to the announcement going out. Anytime women can advocate and develop and evolve in any capacity, I think that’s something.”
The U.S. head coach admitted she wasn’t familiar with the details of the suit, but felt it was a start.
“I haven’t read details exactly what they’re asking for,” Ellis said. “I haven’t read in depth, but I think it’s sitting down at the table and having conversations and being heard and trying to advocate on what you want.”
Two FOX Sports announcers who played with the U.S. women’s side years ago certainly supported the action — Aly Wagner, who will commentate games in France this summer, and Leslie Osbourne, who is an pre- and post-game commentator. Wagner was an emcee at the Summit, while Osbourne spoke in an afternoon session.
“It’s overdue,” Osbourne said. “The most impactful thing about this is that they’re doing it together and the unity and the platform these women have and the leverage to be the best team in the world.”
On Friday, tennis star Serena Williams compared it to the equity fight in her sport during the 1970s.
Osbourne noted that Billie Jean King was one person, while the Americans are a team.
“The impact these women have on the world, on the world stage, being the best in the world, I think for them to stay together and be unified is going to help get this whole deal done,” she said. “I’m just super proud of them. … They know if they stay together and go through this and they’re going to be strong. We talk a lot about community here, being a family and a team. That’s why these women know they have leverage going into this next Women’s World Cup.
“Megan Rapinoe quoted it the best: It is their job, it is their duty to do this. and its going to help every woman in the world. ‘Look at this opportunity and say maybe I can do or maybe there is a chance.”
Wagner, a former teammate of current players Carli Lloyd and Tobin Heath, also gave the 28 USWNT players who signed the lawsuit her support.
“As teammates with them, I know what we went through when I was playing,” she said. “Things weren’t always equitable but I think the good thing I that there have been massive strides made from U.S. Soccer and they’ve always been the leader of that. I’m proud of that. There is more work to be done. Hopefully, this is the final push that really gets everything to a level playing field and a place that we all feel comfortable with.”
Osbourne felt the action could further unite the team as prepares for France.
“No other U.S. women’s team has won back to back,” she said. “So, if we can win back to back, this is going to be monumental. Coming off the 2015 World Cup as champions, going into this World Cup, this team has been on fire the last two years. A couple of shaky performances the last couple of months, but they have the leverage going into this World Cup. Now is the time vs. maybe even after the World Cup. For them feeling unified, they built up this movement, this strong and power group together, is very powerful going into France.”