The Burlington High School (Vermont) girls soccer team had a statement to make Friday night.
And when the Seahorses finally got a goal, the ice-breaker with less than five minutes to play, they seized their chance. Moments after Helen Worden’s unlikely shot found the back of the net, the BHS players wheeled away toward the grandstand in celebration, several peeling off the tops of their blue uniforms to reveal custom-made white jerseys beneath.
The message: #EQUALPAY.
Their effort to join the stars of the World Cup-winning U.S. women’s national soccer team advocating for gender equality had a spotlight at Buck Hard Field. But their protest of the wage gap also came at a price — anyone who takes off her jersey during a game earns an automatic yellow card.
“I kinda liked that part,” Maggie Barlow said, “I just didn’t like the part where we lost (the lead).”
South Burlington equalized two minutes later and neither side could supply another goal after that, forcing the Seahorses to settle for something other than the victory they’d imagined for their regular-season finale. However, Burlington hardly lost the day.
As the referees issued yellow cards at midfield to four Burlington players, the crowd chanted the slogan on the front of those white shirts. Many of them were wearing the #equalpay jerseys, part of the more than 500 the BHS team had already sold as part of their fundraising campaign.
“We would not have done it if we were not wearing our equal pay jerseys,” Worden said.
“It’s a good cause,” Barlow said.
Originally the teens’ plan was to make #equalpay shirts for their team’s dress-up day. It wasn’t long before athletes on other BHS teams wanted in and word spread beyond the school’s halls.
“Then we partnered with some organizations that focus on women’s economic security in Vermont and we designed these jerseys and it kind of spread like wildfire,” Lydia Sheeser said.
The initiative quickly blossomed from a soccer-only idea to a far-reaching movement — Sen. Patrick Leahy (D-VT) and his wife, Marcelle, were among those who bought one of the Nike shirts. Each costs $25, with men invited to pay 16% more ($4.80) as a symbol of the average disparity between what men and women make in Vermont.
The girls team encouraged the BHS boys team to join them and even helped fundraise to provide jerseys for them to wear during warm-ups. Wearing the special jerseys during a recent game, the boys celebrated in similar fashion but with a subtle difference sparing them from any yellow cards.
“When they scored, they lifted (their jersey) up but didn’t actually take it off,” Barlow said. “They ended up being really enthusiastic about it and that’s been like my favorite part.”