In front of thousands of screaming fans at New York City Hall on Wednesday, the undisputed star of the Women’s World Cup, Megan Rapinoe, described her winning team.
“We’ve got tea-sipping. We’ve got celebrations,” Rapinoe said. “We have pink hair and purple hair. We have tattoos and dreadlocks. We’ve got white girls and black girls and everything in between. Straight girls and gay girls.”
She could have been describing the crowd.
City officials estimated 300,000 people turned out to cheer on the team during a ticker-tape parade from Battery Park to City Hall in Lower Manhattan. Afterward, the mayor presented each member of the team with a key to the city.
“They are like rock stars,” said 13-year-old Elena Nicholson. Along with her friend Ellie Sklar, she missed soccer practice at Tobin Heath Field — named for the Team USA player from their hometown of Basking Ridge, New Jersey — to attend the parade.
Her favorite player is Rapinoe.
“She stands up for what she believes in and doesn’t cater herself to others, she is just herself. And she scores goals,” Elena said.
Sklar wanted to see midfielder Julie Ertz because “she’s just so confident in herself and her ability and I love it.”
“I think these people represent America and what it should stand for,” Elena added. “Especially for women to be equal and strong like them.”
Talk of equality — particularly pay equality — dominated the parade and city hall ceremony, with regular chants of “USA — equal pay.”
Aniyah Quinlan, a 17-year-old soccer player on vacation with her family from North Carolina, said she specifically came out to show her support for the players’ fight for equal pay.
“The men have not won a cup since 1930 and the women have won at least four times,” she said. “And they’re still making only $260,000, while each of the men are getting $1.1 million. I wish I made a poster.”
Plenty of others made posters, though — and although traditional ticker tape did not exist, many offices seemingly kept the paper shredder busy all morning and occasionally threw boxes of shredded documents out the window. Sometimes just random full pages from legal books fell from the sky.
But the focus, particularly for the predominately young female crowd, was the players.
“I like their attitude, how they keep on trying and trying,” said Taylor Piccione, a 12-year-old from Queens who plays striker and center midfield for two soccer teams. “Even though they don’t get as much as the boys, they still keep on going.”
“I think they should honestly be getting a higher salary than most of the men,” her cousin, Sam Rom, added.
Megan Jensen, 16, had insisted that she and her parents travel in from New Fairfield, Connecticut, to attend the parade. They stayed at a hotel the night before, and she held a sign celebrating the team’s 2015 and 2019 championships.
“They just work so hard,” she said. “They just always push themselves to the last possible second and they’re always encouraging their teammates and they’re always putting out positive messages to young girls.”
What kind of messages? “Work hard,” Megan said. “Be equal to men.”
A soccer player since the age of 3, Megan wrote a paper last year about the fight for equal pay in women’s sports.
“The women’s team is more entertaining to watch than the men’s team, to be honest with you, so the pay should be equitable,” her dad, Troy Jensen, added.
Even boys agreed.
“The women are way better than the men,” said Jackson Schmidt, a 12-year-old soccer player from Buffalo.
Natalie Kim, 13, had stayed up half the night with her younger cousins and family friends making T-shirts to wear in honor of the winning World Cup team.
Natalie, who also plays soccer, said she loved how the players are “all really strong and they fight for their rights and they don’t care who’s going to stand up to them.”
She held a “RAPINOE 2020” sign, partly painted in rainbow colors to support gay pride.
“She’s an open lesbian athlete and we think that’s really cool,” she added.
Communications manager Cailey Cron held a sign that read “1 nation, 1 team, 1 big gay crush on all of you.”
“It inspires me as a young queer person to use whatever platform I might have to try and do good in the world and hold people to account,” Cron said, “whether that’s FIFA, whether that’s President Trump, whether that’s supporting Colin Kaepernick and other athletes who are out there fighting for social change.”
Tanya Perez, a 45-year-old from Manhattan who was watching the parade with her girlfriend, Carla Tranghese, noted how grateful she was that several of the World Cup players, such as Rapinoe, are out and proud, because “it kind of forces America to deal with it.”
“There wouldn’t be these sports without lesbians!” Perez said while laughing.
“Young girls all look up to these young players who are lesbians,” Tranghese added. “When I was their age I certainly didn’t [have that].”