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Girl's soccer team penalized for 'equal pay' jerseys

Players on a high school varsity soccer team in Vermont may have been penalized for how they communicated their message of equal pay, but now that message is being heard loud and clear throughout the state and the country.

On Friday, with just three minutes left in a game, Burlington High School Seahorses netted a goal against the South Burlington Wolves. As players on the team celebrated the new lead against their opponents by charging the stands of cheering fans, four players removed their jerseys to display a shirt underneath with the message, "#EQUALPAY."

The referee assigned yellow cards and removed the four players — as per Vermont's athletic rules, which prevents players from wearing clothing that displays slogans — while the crowd chanted "Equal pay!” according to CNN.

"We were frustrated at the time because we felt like our actions were appropriate for the moment," co-captain Maggie Barlow, 17, told CNN, about the yellow cards. "In the end, the most important thing is the message we're sending."

The scene was reminiscent of and inspired by the U.S. women's national soccer team (USWNT) and their fight to achieve equal pay.

On March 8, which was International Women's Day and just months before the Women's World Cup kicked off in June, all 28 members of the USWNT roster filed a class-action lawsuit against the U.S. Soccer Federation. The lawsuit claims that the women's team, despite performing the same duties and outperforming the men's team, even at times earning more profit for the federation, were paid less.

The lawsuit claims that a top women's player could earn as little as 38 percent of what a male player makes.

To put it in perspective, $30 million in prize money was given to teams in the 2019 women’s tournament, while in the 2018 men's World Cup, $400 million was allocated. The winning team in the women's World Cup received $4 million, while the 2018 male winners in France received $38 million.

The filing of the lawsuit was considered a bold move, due to the fact that the USWNT would, in just a few months, be playing to defend their world title.

The public fight for equal pay clearly resonated with fans, particularly students on Burlington High School's soccer team.

The Seahorses, partnering with Change The Story, an organization that aims to "fast-track women's economic status in Vermont," created the "#EQUAL PAY" jerseys, which they are now selling for $25. Men are invited to pay 16 percent more, representing the wage gap, totaling $31. According to Change The Story member Jessica Nordhaus, many men have already taken the team up on that invitation.

Along with those men are members of the school's staff and student body, as well as the community and Sen. Patrick Leahy of Vermont and his wife. The boy's soccer team has also taken to wearing the #EQUALPAY jerseys.

According to CNN, the organization has received more than 1,000 orders for the jersey.

“We are so proud of our Girl’s soccer team,” Noel Green, the principal of Burlington High School, said in a statement. “They have taken their learning beyond the classroom and have truly worked hard to learn more, educate others, and use their platform as varsity student-athletes to try to create change. The work ethic and community engagement shown over the past few weeks mirror the ideals that we hope to see in all of our students. Go, Seahorses, Go!”

Their coach, Jeff Hayes, told CNN: "I am so proud of this team on what they have done on and off the field.”

Even former USWNT player Brandi Chastain, an Olympic and World Cup winner, who scored the World Cup-winning penalty shootout against China in the 1999 tournament, sent a message of support to the high school team.

While the game ended in a tie and four players received yellow cards, the team says that sending a message of equal pay was what the demonstration was all about.

The referee of the game even ordered an #EQUALPAY jersey, according to CNN, and told the players he was looking forward to wearing it.

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