A girls' high school varsity soccer team in Vermont is taking a page out of the U.S. Women's National Soccer Team's playbook by mixing sports and social activism.
"We want to show that we're all going to stand behind this issue and we're all going to fight for it together," Burlington High School freshman Lydia Sheeser said of her team's campaign to draw attention to wage inequality across the economy.
It's estimated nationally that women make 80 cents for every dollar men earn, with an even larger gap for women of color.
The Vermont number is 84 cents, according to the advocacy group Change the Story, whose goal is women's economic security.
"It's appalling, and it's ridiculous that that's still a thing," said Maggie Barlow, a Burlington senior who is a member of the girls' varsity soccer team.
Originally, the Burlington Seahorses thought they'd make some simple tie-dyed shirts for a spirit day, but the idea took off. Change the Story helped the student athletes print more formal tees, with bold text reading “#EqualPay” across the chest.
"Even if you're wearing it to the grocery store or something, it's just bringing awareness and it's going to get people talking," Chloe De Bedout, a senior on the Burlington High School girls' varsity soccer team, said about the shirts.
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"What these girls are doing is just spectacular in terms of raising awareness and putting some focus on the fact we still have inequities in our system," said Jessica Nordhaus of Change the Story.
The team was inspired by the high-profile efforts of soccer star Megan Rapinoe and her teammates on the U.S. Soccer Women's National Team to gain paychecks equal to those of male pro soccer players, Barlow and her fellow high school athletes told necn and NBC10 Boston.
With full backing from their coach and principal, the Burlington team has now received orders for more than 500 of their #EqualPay shirts, including from members of the boys' squad. Shirts also were shipped to U.S. Sen. Patrick Leahy, D-Vt., and his wife, Marcelle.
"I think it takes everybody to really egg on a movement, so I thought we should help out in any way that we could," said Burlington senior Helen Worden, describing the benefit of having a wide range of community members joining the campaign for equal pay for equal work.
Money raised from the sales of the T-shirts supports a recreational league providing girls' youth soccer opportunities in the Burlington area.
League rules bar the girls from wearing uniforms with slogans on them in official games, but they're fine for practices and off-field activities, the team's coach noted.
One sign of how the campaign appears to have really scored is that teams from other schools are reaching out, asking how to get their own #EqualPay shirts made, Nordhaus said.
The jerseys retail for $25, but the team is inviting men to pay an additional 16%, or an additional $4, to represent closing Vermont's wage gap.