Thousands lined the streets of lower Manhattan on Wednesday to celebrate the U.S. Women’s National Soccer Team’s fourth World Cup victory with a ticker-tape parade.
Fans decked out in U.S.A. shirts, jerseys and caps lined Broadway for the procession, which started in Battery Park and continued to City Hall, where the women were presented with the keys to the city after their 2-0 final win on Sunday over the Netherlands.
Mia Sansanelli, 18, came to the parade from Huntington, Long Island, with her mom Heather. As she prepares to go into collegiate soccer this fall, Mia said she couldn’t miss an opportunity to see her favorite players, Kelly O’Hara and Megan Rapinoe. She saw them play in the World Cup in 2015 and was excited to see them in person again.
"Their athleticism and skill are really inspiring," she said. "I’m a defender myself and O’Hara has always been such an incredible role model for me. I love watching her."
The players’ fight for pay equal to that of male players is also uplifting, Sansanelli said. Several members of the team filed a lawsuit against the U.S. Soccer Federation, alleging gender discrimination, just months before they went to the World Cup in France.
"They’re going to pave the way for everyone following them," Sansanelli said. "If they set a good example now and establish what they think is fair now, then it’ll fall into what we do and when we grow up and play in college or a professional career, women will get the same things they fought for."
That lesson was one that many moms wanted their daughters to see in person. Interrupting a Long Island vacation, Barbara Tantum, 50, of Bucks County, Pennsylvania, brought her two teen daughters and her niece to the parade.
They had gone as a family to see the parade when the Philadelphia Eagles won the Super Bowl, and Tantum wanted to demonstrate that a women’s victory was just as vital.
"We went to that parade and I thought, here’s a group of women winning the world championship, and I thought it was just as important to bring the girls to this parade," she said.
The three girls play soccer themselves and said they were thrilled to see their heroes in person. Tantum’s niece said she was delighted to see them get to celebrate their victory.
The best part, said Sam Hollish, 15, a goalkeeper, is "just seeing them, seeing them celebrate and have a good time, because they deserve it."
Three teen soccer players from Stratford, Connecticut, woke up early Wednesday to dress themselves in red, white and blue and head to the parade. They said the players’ activism is inspiring.
"They all have a voice and they’re all individuals," said Helen Lefever, 16. "It’s awesome to see women role models make an impact on the entire country." Her friend, Julia Mahoney, 17, agreed. "We just love the women’s team. What they stand for and how they represent themselves is amazing."
Raquel Ramirez, 18, never had the funds to pursue her interest in soccer while growing up in Woodhaven. But after seeing the national team win the World Cup, she’s inspired to try out for her team at St. Joseph’s College.
"It’s a long shot, but I want to be on a soccer club team," Ramirez said. "It’s a one in a million opportunity, but I’m hoping I can train hard enough to be on a pro team one day."
Tamara Sisco, 39, of Hawthorne, New Jersey, got up early to make sure her two soccer-playing daughters, Ariana, 9, and Victoria, 7, didn’t miss a chance to see their heroes.
"They look up to all the girls," Sisco said. Ariana said women’s team co-captain Alex Morgan is her favorite player "because she’s nice and tough and always goes for the ball, like me."
After the parade up the Canyon of Heroes, the champion players were each introduced to huge cheers at City Hall, where Mayor Bill de Blasio and first lady Chirlane McCray led the crowd with chants of "Equal pay!"
"This is how we welcome our heroes back home," McCray said.
"Today we had a moment we will remember for the rest of our lives," de Blasio said. "What they have accomplished was extraordinary."
National team player Carli Lloyd said "the parades never get old."
"Thank you to the city of New York. Here’s to the mayor, here’s to everyone who made this happen … Hopefully, we’ll be here again in four years," Lloyd said.
Rapinoe, who was introduced to thunderous applause, said the women aren’t defined solely by their athletic feats.
"This is my charge to everyone. We need to be better. We need to love more and hate less," Rapinoe said. "It’s our responsibility to make this world a better place."
The co-captain referenced the recent controversy over her refusal to visit the White House as a World Cup champion, which drew the ire of President Donald Trump.
"There is so much contention in the last few years. I’ve been a victim of that. I’ve been a perpetrator of that; sorry for that," Rapinoe said.
De Blasio, in a morning interview on CNN, threw his full support behind female soccer players being paid the same as their male counterparts. "They’re heroes in more than one way," said de Blasio, who is running for the Democratic presidential nomination. "They’re leading a discussion in America and demanding change."
The fans shouted "Pay them!" at U.S. Soccer President Carlos Cordeiro, who acknowledged the players’ activism.
"In recent months you have raised your voices in equality," Cordeiro said. "We are here to say we hear you, we are committed to you. We will continue to invest more in women’s soccer … and encourage our friends at FIFA to do more."
Gov. Andrew M. Cuomo signed a bill early Wednesday morning that mandates equal pay for equal work.
"These women soccer players deserve every dollar that the men’s soccer players receive," Cuomo said. "We stand with them in solidarity, and New York will once again lead the way."
New York City has hosted 206 parades along the Canyon of Heroes since 1886, and Wednesday’s celebration was the sixth since 2000. In 2015, the women’s soccer team was feted with a ticker-tape parade after its third World Cup win.
An estimated 300,000 people attended Wednesday’s parade, according to mayoral spokeswoman Freddie Goldstein.
With Matthew Chayes, Allegra Hobbs, Ivan Pereira and Li Yakira Cohen