"Exhibiting You" - Story

The Level Playing Field

By: Monica Gonzalez
Submitted: 05/08/2008

Growing up in Texas, I always embraced my Mexican heritage and am proud to be a Mexican American. Frankly, I never imagined that I’d end up playing for the Mexican team. As a competitive soccer player, I always looked at making the United States Women’s National Team as my goal and simply assumed I would play for the U.S. Life, however, is very unpredictable and can take some unexpected twists – and I’m so very grateful that it did!

In 1998, I was in the developmental system for the Under-21 U.S. National Team when I received an invite to tryout for the newly formed Mexican National Team. Truthfully, the decision was a very tough one, but when I was out with a torn ACL, the team qualified for the 1999 Women’s World Cup and I decided to go for it. I had always dreamed of playing in the World Cup and here was my chance. I was only 19.

Even though I initially joined the Mexican team in order to fulfill one of my own personal goals, it dawned on me little by little that there were far more important reasons to play for Mexico.

Currently in Mexico, there are few girls’ sports leagues, few college scholarships available and little effort to fight for equal funding of men’s and women’s soccer within the Mexican Soccer Federation. Until recently, the population-at-large barely took notice of our team. It doesn’t help that fathers are often overly protective of their daughters and are reluctant to allow them to play in a “male” game. Even more problematic and critical to note, however, is the wage differential between male and female players.

My Mexico team has improved tremendously in seven years and continues to receive funding, but there remains a major disparity between the earnings of male and female national team players. Our federation is extremely reluctant to pay us anything. When we are “in-camp” we get paid absolutely nothing whereas the men receive $150 U.S. dollars per day. When we are traveling abroad we are paid $25 for each day compared to $150 that the men receive. Our federation still finds it unnecessary to pay the women a salary or even a stipend per game played (the men receive $2,500 USD per game) even though we spend nearly seven months out of the year in training camp. I was just reading an article which cited $400,000 as the average male salary for Mexican players. I’d say that’s a fairly significant difference to say the least!

To give another example, our federation offered to pay us nothing when we upset Canada to qualify for the 2004 Athens Olympic Games. Our coach, Leonardo Cuellar had to fight tooth and nail and was finally able to get us a $2,000 bonus check. The under-23 men’s team also qualified for the Olympics that year – their bonus check was for $18,000 USD.

Mexican women and girls have a long way to go before achieving the recognition, respect and compensation they are due. The time has come for female figures throughout Mexico to form a single voice strong enough to break through the machismo–engrained ideologies that have been in place for so long.

Considering the importance of soccer in the Mexican culture, I am very optimistic that circumstances will change. I am not the type of person to cry out “It’s not fair!” and simply do nothing. I think that we can make our own success by proving to the Mexican Federation that we can be a profitable enterprise, quite capable of attracting our own corporate sponsors and more importantly, fan support.

In fact, in July of 2003, we played Japan in Estadio Azteca—the soccer mecca of North America! That day 90,000 people saw in person, and another five million on television, that women can indeed play a beautiful and entertaining style of soccer. I felt an enormous sense of accomplishment, not because we came from behind to tie Japan, but because we won over the hearts of people all across Mexico. To this day, I have never experienced discriminating or derogatory comments from Mexican fans. I can only hope that the progressing popularity of women’s soccer in Mexico will empower women in all careers and that steps will be made, little by little to improve the opportunities and treatment women receive.

The fact that I ended up playing for the Mexican National Soccer Team was a pivotal moment in my life. Women in sports have always faced obstacles, and now, I fully appreciate just what that means. I am dedicated to creating change for young women athletes and specifically for Mexican and Hispanic girls who play soccer. In fact, I am nearly finished with my first year of law school—my aim is to learn more about policy and lawmaking and understand how to effectuate change.

I am also an active supporter of the Women’s Sports Foundation (www.womenssportsfoundation.org) and their initiative GoGirlGo (www.gogirlgo.com) to keep young women active and healthy. I try to encourage and inspire young girls to take up soccer and get involved with sports.

Armed with personal experience and the knowledge acquired from law school, I plan on battling to give young women across Mexico and the United States every opportunity to live out their dreams. Soccer has enriched my life in so many ways--from scholarships and traveling the world, to lifelong friendships and innumerable life lessons. I am a persevering and confident woman because of athletics. By sharing my story, I hope to raise consciousness and inspire young women to get involved and take action to even out the field.

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