U.S. Soccer president Cindy Parlow Cone has been on the side of the negotiating table from where she sits now.
She was a standout midfielder for the United States Women's National Team, winning two Olympic gold medals (1996, 2004) and a World Cup (1999). Parlow Cone also has been an executive with the federation since 2019, when she was elected as vice president.
Brandi Chastain, who started alongside Parlow Cone in the United States' World Cup win at the Rose Bowl 21 years ago Friday, said she was personally "very happy" to see her longtime USWNT teammate succeed Carlos Cordeiro in the post. Cordeiro resigned from the federation in March amid growing criticism from players, sponsors, media and fans over the federation's sexist legal arguments in the USWNT's equal-pay lawsuit.
Parlow Cone is the first woman -- and first former player -- to serve in the role, and Chastain said Parlow Cone's experience at every level of the federation makes her "a breath of fresh air."
"I believe change, unfortunately, though we want it to come overnight, doesn't," Chastain, whose iconic penalty-kick goal sealed the 1999 World Cup win, told NBC Sports Bay Area late last month. "But, I think it takes great leadership and I think Cindy will surely lead us in a direction that will be positive -- not just for those who excel. U.S. Soccer is a massive organization, and they don't cater just to the professional players and the elite national team. Really, the constituents that they have to think about mostly are young kids."
Cordeiro resigned on March 12, a day after USWNT players wore their warmup shirts before a match inside-out in order to hide the federation's crest. U.S. Soccer doubled down on legal arguments that the women's team is inherently inferior to the men's, writing in a brief submitted on March 9 in response to summary judgment filings by the USWNT's lawyers that "the job of (a) MNT player ... requires a higher level of skill based on speed and strength than does the job of (a) WNT player."
Parlow Cone tweeted hours before Cordeiro's resignation that she was "hurt and saddened" by the language used.
I am hurt and saddened by the brief USSF filed. This issue means so much to me, but more broadly to all men & women and, more importantly, to little girls & boys who are our future. I disavow the troubling statements and will continue to work to forge a better path forward.— Cindy Cone (@cone_cindy) March 12, 2020
She later told reporters on March 24 that the brief was "personally hurtful" to her as a former USWNT player, and it had to call to mind her own experience negotiating with the federation. As The Athletic's Meg Linehan noted when Cordeiro resigned, Parlow Cone and the rest of the 1999 World Cup winners boycotted a January 2000 tournament in Australia over a contract dispute. U.S. Soccer countered the USWNT's proposed pay raises for a short-term contract with the same terms as the previous contract, and U.S. Soccer's then-secretary general told reporters that the '99ers "chose not to play for their country."
"It's a very vogue thing to be on the side of the women on this," Hank Steinbrecher said at the time. "We're going to do what we think is best regardless of what the media has to say or uninformed people have to say."
Chastain said those kinds of sentiments have prevailed for "far too long."
"I think Cindy's not afraid to delve deeper than the surface of, 'Hm, that just doesn't look right,' " Chastain said. "Because too many people, if you're talking about language (in the brief), allowed that to go on for far too long and so now that she says, 'No, that's it,' I think that shows that change can happen, that we're not just going to say, 'Well, it's the way we've been doing it, so we'll continue to do it.' And I think that's important."
U.S. Soccer hired a new law firm in March, and chief legal officer Lydia Wahlke resigned in May. The federation stopped pursuing the highly-criticized arguments in the USWNT's lawsuit, arguing that the USWNT and USMNT negotiated different collective bargaining agreements and that the women made more in total compensation than the men.
A U.S. District Judge sided with the federation on May 1, dismissing the players' claims that U.S. Soccer violated the Equal Pay Act. The USWNT filed a motion to appeal the Equal Pay ruling a week later, and the remaining claims of discriminatory treatment currently are scheduled to be heard in a September trial. Their current CBA expires at the end of next year.
Parlow Cone told Glamour's Macaela Mackenzie earlier this week she initially ran for U.S. Soccer's vice presidency because she "felt like we needed a player's voice in the room when decisions were being made." She added she hopes the sides can reach a resolution "before it goes to trial."An ideal solution, in Parlow Cone's eyes, would have the federation and the players "walk away a little bit uncomfortable with the resolution" while "also feeling like they have been heard and are respected and valued."
That answer wouldn't surprise Chastain.
"I think there's a compassion that exists within Cindy about 'I know what it's like to be the player. I know what it's like to have something or not have something, and what is fair, and what seems reasonable and what doesn't.' " Chastain said.
"And she'll make hard decisions, believe me. She will make hard decisions, and some of them maybe personally she won't like. But it's not about her benefit. ... I think this is something that I learned with the National Team over the almost two decades that we played there which is that it's not about one player. It's about all the players, and if it doesn't benefit all the players, most likely it's not gonna be something that we're going to fight for."