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AILSA CHANG, HOST:

Just months before the United States women‘s soccer team won the World Cup in 2019, it took a huge risk.

UNIDENTIFIED CROWD: (Singing) Equal pay, equal pay, equal pay.

CHANG: More than 20 players have filed a sex discrimination complaint against the United States Football Federation for fair pay and treatment compared to the men’s team. Now there is a new documentary that captures the perspective of the US women’s team. It’s called “LFG”. It’s the abbreviation of the phrase let’s go with a curse in the middle, a rallying cry for the team. Filmmaker Andrea Nix Fine says “LFG” is a story that will resonate with many women.

ANDREA NIX FINE: I think women all over the world will watch this and at one point or another they’re going to feel like, oh, I’ve been there, I felt that – the lack of value, the disrespect – I mean, in a way that, like, isn’t the same as being celebrated.

CHANG: I spoke with Andrea Nix Fine and Jessica McDonald, a forward for the 2019 World Cup winning team, film and trial. And I asked McDonald, what were the first thoughts that crossed his mind when his team started talking about suing his boss?

JESSICA MCDONALD: Oh, man, I was panicking because I was like, a lawsuit? I don’t know anything about prosecutions. What? Oh, man. And I was also new to the team at that time, you know.

CHANG: Well, what were you panicking specifically? What were you worried about going on?

MCDONALD: Well, no. When I heard the trial, you know, it’s just, like, it’s …

CHANG: Yeah.

MCDONALD: … An intimidating word. Like, how many people on this earth can say that they were, you know, part of a lawsuit, let alone, like, sue …

CHANG: Yeah.

MCDONALD: … Your employer? You know, and for me being new to the team, obviously I felt nervous. And I’m like, are you, like, killing my position on this team? Like, I just arrived, you know? But, like, I didn’t know what to expect. So obviously from the start I just – I didn’t know what to expect. But then, you know, once we started talking more and I understood and understood everything that was going on better, I was totally on board and obviously felt more confident once I got there. got more information.

CHANG: Yeah. And I mean, you’re a single mom. The film goes into that a bit. But what it shows us is that your life as a professional athlete always comes with a lot of financial constraints. Can you talk about this?

MCDONALD: Yes. The world knew that, you know, a lot of us female athletes have multiple jobs. And it has sort of been accepted in our society. But once you see it, I feel like it’s so much more revealing. Like, I show people, you know, I barely had a meal in a day because, you know, I literally go from practice to public talk to go train kids to another appearance. And all this in one day.

You know, especially me being a single mom, I manage on my own with my child – if you are a parent you know how difficult it is. Even if you are in a partnership, it is difficult. And so for me to be able to do whatever I’m able to do, I’m grateful. But it’s also very revealing to everyone and shows how, you know, the pay is really unfair when I’m here to work multiple jobs in the middle of my season.

CHANG: Well, when the Federal District Court dismissed your team’s equal pay request last May, one of the things the judge said was, look, these players are being paid under the terms of the agreement they signed. Now they just want to get out of this deal. What do you say about this central argument?

MCDONALD: This is all happening – I’m still a new player. And so when the original deal was signed, you know, I heard different things, obviously, from my side with my team and those who work with us. It’s almost like we’re being bullied, you know, these contracts that we have right now.

NIX FINE: And I also think about the way – you know we’ve talked to a number of players. And Jessica, I think you were all so stunned, like everyone else, I think, how the judge got into this – come to that conclusion with that argument? And I think the takeaway, which is really basically the reason the call goes on is that it’s not the fact that, hey, you got a deal, you took it on. and now you don’t like it. The answer that really needs to be considered: Has US Soccer ever offered the women’s team the same deal, line for line? And the answer is no. This is where the discrimination occurs. They were never actually offered this deal. And that’s the deal they kept fighting for. And that is why there is still appeal.

CHANG: We must note that this film did not include any interviews with anyone from the American Football Federation side. Why was that?

NIX FINE: Well, it’s their choice. We have extended the possibility for the Federation to participate in an interview on camera. And from the start of the film, we let it be known that they chose to decline. But, you know, we took and had conversations with them off-camera to make sure we understood their position on the equal pay dispute. And we spent two years researching court records, public documents and CBA agreements. And it’s highly researched and reviewed to make sure it’s all there. So at the end of the day I guess you’ll have to ask them why they chose not to participate. But we asked them, and they chose not to.

CHANG: Well, the American Football Federation told the Washington Post that you didn’t reach them for an interview until late in production. First of all, is this true? And if so, why not just keep the movie going until you can tell a more balanced story?

NIX FINE: Oh, we approached them and gave them plenty of time to participate. It was their decision. And they refused. And we found it to be unfortunate.

CHANG: Well, it’s clear that this lawsuit put the fight for equal pay on perhaps the biggest stage it has ever seen in this country. I mean, there are these amazing scenes throughout the movie where you can hear huge stadiums and crowds cheering, equal pay, equal pay. And I’m just – I’m curious, Jessica, however way this lawsuit ultimately ends, what has this fight meant to you? What has this position meant for you?

MCDONALD: Everything. At the moment, it is something historic. It is a movement. It is a movement for – I always say it – but for all the little girls who one day want to be in our place because they will deserve it. All the time, effort, and kicking women in their jobs, I mean, there’s nothing more deserving than, you know, if not equal, than what their counterparts get. male. And so at the end of the day, it’s all about fairness, fairness for everyone. And so the women over there, you know, we’re tough guys, and we’re going to keep fighting. And that’s exactly what it means to me.

CHANG: Jessica McDonald is a 2019 World Cup champion. Andrea Nix Fine’s new movie is called “LFG”. It’s now on HBO.

Thank you both very much for being with us.

NIX FINE: Thanks, Ailsa.

MCDONALD: Yes. Thank you for receiving us; appreciate it.

(SOUNDBITE OF MUSIC) Transcription provided by NPR, Copyright NPR.

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