OpEd: From $10/Day to A Soccer Stadium Built for Women: Lessons from the First USWNT

Kansas City Sets New Standard by Dedicating a Soccer Stadium to Professional Women's Team

This past week the first stadium built for women’s soccer opened its doors, packing the stands with fans eager to cheer on the home team: the Kansas City Current. As we sat there, 15 of the 17 original players from the first U.S. Women’s National Soccer Team (USWNT), we couldn’t help but swell with immense pride. Look at how far our sport has come and how many women it has lifted along the way.

38 years ago, when we took the field in Jesolo, Italy as the first women to don the stars and stripes, things were different. We sported hand-me-down men’s jerseys, were comped $10 a day, and stayed in a dingey motel. All born before Title IX, the federal legislation prohibiting sex-based discrimination in school programs receiving federal funds, our 1985 USWNT was comprised of gritty college students and recent grads who grew up pushing the boundaries of what was possible. We played whatever sports were available (most schools introduced field hockey before soccer), repetitively stretched and tore our college uniforms to loosen our skintight jerseys (programs didn’t know how to make women’s jerseys), and pounced on every opportunity to play, usually with the guys. Us 85’ers recently had the chance to tell our story, our way, for the first time. We met Jamie Mittelman, founder of Flame Bearers the world’s first media company exclusively championing the stories of women Olympians and Paralympians (and those who competed before their sports were allowed in the Olympics).

The idea of producing the unprecedented story of our team through a special podcast series was born. After being sidelined for 38 years, it meant everything to be given the mic.

Michelle Akers, taken by Randy Bacon as part of the Special Art Exhibit honoring First U.S. Women’s National Team at CPKC Stadium. This exhibit consists of portraits, written narratives, and short films telling the stories of the1985 USWNT.
Michelle Akers, taken by Randy Bacon as part of the Special Art Exhibit honoring First U.S. Women’s National Team at CPKC Stadium. This exhibit consists of portraits, written narratives, and short films telling the stories of the1985 USWNT.

As the first 17 players of the USWNT, we have a perspective shared by no other. To walk in those first footsteps and have a seat in history yet again with the opening of the first ever women’s soccer stadium, there is a lot to look forward to in this next chapter of women’s soccer.

The KC Current can teach us all some valuable lessons. We specifically applaud three lessons the Current nailed that other sports teams and the world can learn from:

1. This stadium opening is a step towards a future in which women have our own spaces, built for our own purposes. According to ‘85er Kim Wyant, “this is a historic moment in women’s football [soccer] globally.” It is a step away from the traditional “shrink it and pink it” model companies have applied for decades: building products and spaces for men and instead of evaluating how to best serve women, producing the same items/spaces smaller, coloring them pink and smacking on a ‘for women’ label. As FIFA Player of the Century and member of the ’85 team, Michelle Akers shared, “I never felt like we had a home for women’s soccer.” Societal values are changing, and this stadium manifests a larger trend in which consumers are challenging the default that products, spaces, and jobs are built for men. This one is for the ladies, and we hope it doesn’t remain the exception, but becomes the norm.

2. Celebrated past, present and future soccer stars, as the home opener brought together generations of players. We couldn’t help thinking that while others footed the construction bill, the women who dared to dream, won World Cups and Olympic medals were the bricks who built the stadium — and we were recognized for it with pioneers across generations showing up in spades and being honored.

During halftime, 15 of our original 17 ‘85ers took the field for the first time to be publicly recognized. According to 85er, Kathy Ridgewell-Williams, “We grew up playing in pastures. This [stadium opening] matters because it allows girls to believe and dream. That is priceless.”

According to Akers, “We’ve built this legacy together and we want it to continue to grow. We all rise together.”

Ali Krieger commentated and rising Duke superstar, Mary Long, cheered from seats at the midfield line. According to ‘85er, Tara Buckley O’Sullivan “we’ve come full circle, and this event allowed us to see what women’s soccer has become.” And this change didn’t happen overnight, with nearly four decades of players paving the way (and many others before), a storied history KC Current sought to acknowledge. Team leadership got it right by paying tribute to the women on whose shoulders we stand.

3. Raised the bar for the quality expected in women’s sports. Co-founded by Brittany and Patrick Mahomes alongside Angie and Chris Long, the Current spared no expense. Fireworks, a drone show, drummers, a best-in-class AI security system – fans in a sold-out stadium were given a top-notch experience. The Current sees women’s sports for the business opportunity it is, not the charity case many still misunderstand women’s sports to be. According to Akers, “When we were playing, we were shamed into accepting crap of severe inequities, with the scolding of ‘you should be grateful’ from the powers that be. Like we were spoiled children asking for what we did not deserve. No more. Women’s sport isn’t something to support simply because it makes you feel good, but rather because it’s a money maker.” To everyone out there, we hope you get on board, or be prepared to get left behind.

This OpEd was written by Michelle Akers and the 1985 USWNT with Jamie Mittelman.

Jamie Mittelman is on a mission to make sure that people of all ages are inspired by women athletes who look and sound like them. A deep believer in the power of stories to change lives, Jamie is deeply committed to elevating as many diverse voices as possible within the world of elite women’s sports.

Michelle Akers played on the first USWNT, won the first ever FIFA Golden Boot for highest goalscorer in the first Women’s World Cup (‘91), and was FIFA Player of the Century. She was the first to ask the question, "why am I the best player in the world and considered less than equal to my male counterpart Pele?”