Five times US women athletes advocated for equality in sports

Updated 6:54 PM EST, Fri March 8, 2019
01:04 - Source: CNN
US women's soccer members sue for gender discrimination
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Their timing couldn’t have been better.

On Friday, the US Women’s National Soccer Team sent a powerful message, using the backdrop of International Women’s Day and filing a lawsuit that accused the governing body for US soccer of gender discrimination.

And it’s not the first time that female athletes have pushed the envelope. Often, they’re the ones advocating for change and to be treated equally next to their male counterparts — whether they are advocating for equal pay, or just wanted to be able to compete.

Katherine Switzer

Here’s just a few of the many times US women athletes called for equality.

Kathrine Switzer was spotted early in the Boston Marathon by a man who tried to rip the number off her shirt and remove her from the race.
Paul Connell/The Boston Globe/Getty Images
Kathrine Switzer was spotted early in the Boston Marathon by a man who tried to rip the number off her shirt and remove her from the race.

In 1967, 20-year-old Kathrine Switzer made history, becoming the first woman to officially run the Boston Marathon, despite the race director’s forceful attempt to expel her

At the time there weren’t written rules that said women couldn’t compete in the Boston Marathon. Switzer signed up with her initials.

Several miles into the race, however, she saw a man wagging his finger at her. She turned around and saw the man – the race’s director – chasing her, screaming, “Get the hell out of my race and give me those numbers!’” Switzer recalled in her memoir.

The moment was captured in an iconic photo that launched Switzer into advocacy for women in sports.

By 1972, Switzer had used her influence to ensure women were allowed to race in the Boston Marathon, which she ran multiple times.

She repeated the feat in 2017, 50 years after initially breaking the barrier.

Billie Jean King

American tennis player Billie Jean Moffitt, later Billie Jean King, playing at Wimbledon in 1965.
Central Press/Hulton Archive/Getty Images
American tennis player Billie Jean Moffitt, later Billie Jean King, playing at Wimbledon in 1965.

You’ve heard of Serena and Venus Williams and Maria Sharapova. But you might not have without Billie Jean King, a female tennis pioneer credited with being a driving force behind the formation of the Women’s Tennis Association (WTA).

Back in the early ‘70s, King was frustrated by the lack of parity with male tennis players. Women tennis players struggled to even find tournaments to play in, and they weren’t paid the same as their male counterparts.

In 1973 she defeated male Grand Slam champion Bobby Riggs in the “Battle of Sexes” in Houston. Riggs, who was 55 at the time of the match, had claimed that even at his age, he could beat the top women tennis players.

The WTA was formed that same year. President Barack Obama awarded her the Presidential Medal of Freedom in 2009.

US Women’s National Soccer Team

 Hope Solo celebrates with Carli Lloyd after defeating China 1-0 in the FIFA Women's World Cup 2015 Quarter Final match in June 2015.
Jana Chytilova/Freestyle Photo/Getty Images
Hope Solo celebrates with Carli Lloyd after defeating China 1-0 in the FIFA Women's World Cup 2015 Quarter Final match in June 2015.

Friday’s lawsuit against US Soccer was not the first time the players of the women’s team made their voices heard.

Back in 2016, key members filed a complaint with the Equal Employment Opportunity Commission demanding equal pay. They argued that they were both more successful than the US men’s team and generated more money for US Soccer.

The complaint was not resolved, but the players eventually got a raise in 2017, and scored better hotel and travel accommodations in the process, in a deal that runs through 2021.

US Women’s Hockey

The US Women's Hockey Team celebrates after defeating Canada in a shootout to win the Women's Gold Medal Game on day thirteen of the PyeongChang 2018 Winter Olympic Games in South Korea.
Maddie Meyer/Getty Images
The US Women's Hockey Team celebrates after defeating Canada in a shootout to win the Women's Gold Medal Game on day thirteen of the PyeongChang 2018 Winter Olympic Games in South Korea.

The US Women’s Hockey team in 2017 insisted they would sit out a major international tournament unless they saw progress in their negotiations with the sport’s US governing body for fair pay and equal treatment.

Players wanted a $68,000 salary and treatment equal to the men – including the ability to bring guests to competitions, business class airfare and disability insurance. They also demanded benefits like child care and maternity leave.

The two sides reached a deal three days before the International Ice Hockey Federation World Championship, though at the time they didn’t divulge details.

NFL cheerleader Jacalyn Bailey Davis

Jacalyn Bailey Davis, a New Orleans Saints cheerleade, performs during a NFL game at the Mercedes-Benz Superdome on December 17, 2017, in New Orleans.
Sean Gardner/Getty Images
Jacalyn Bailey Davis, a New Orleans Saints cheerleade, performs during a NFL game at the Mercedes-Benz Superdome on December 17, 2017, in New Orleans.

Last year, former cheerleader Jacalyn Bailey Davis filed a complaint with the Equal Employment Opportunity Commission, accusing the NFL and the New Orleans Saints of gender discrimination.

Her complaint noted cheerleaders had to abide not only by the NFL’s personal conduct policy – which applies to all NFL personnel – they also had to contend with verbal and emailed guidance controlling the way they interacted with players.

But NFL players, her complaint said, did not have to follow any of those restrictions.

Davis had been fired for posting a photo of herself in lingerie, after purportedly having been admonished by Saints officials for allegedly being at a party where an NFL player was – one of the forbidden tenants of the unwritten rules.

Davis wasn’t the first NFL cheerleader to allege unfair treatment. Cheerleaders from the New York Jets. Cincinnati Bengals, Tampa Bay Buccaneers, Oakland Raiders and Buffalo Bills had all sued before, demanding fair pay.

CNN’s Emanuella Grinberg, Ahiza Garcia, Euan McKirdy and Paul Gittings contributed to this report.