“Payback” launches the second season of audio documentary anthology "Longshot," from McClatchy and iHeartMedia, exploring the intersection of sports and social change as it delves into US Women’s National Team’s fight for equal pay
NEW YORK AND RALEIGH, NC – March 15, 2022 – The Charlotte Observer and Raleigh News & Observer, in collaboration with iHeartRadio, today announced the release of “Payback,” a new multimedia series on the years-long fight by members of the U.S. Women’s National Team (USWNT) against what they allege is “institutionalized gender discrimination” in professional soccer. On February 22, 2022, the six-year legal battle between U.S. Soccer and the USWNT came to an end with an announced $24M settlement and a pledge from the league’s governing body that steps would be taken to ensure equal pay between men’s and women’s teams in all competitions, including the World Cup. “Payback” examines some of the circumstances and events that led to the players’ filing. The first episode will debut March 15 with new episodes available each Tuesday.
“Payback” is a multimedia anthology composed of text stories, videos, graphic art and novel design and is unique in both its content and its creation in that it is a series conceived, developed and led entirely by women. Hosted by Charlotte Observer and Raleigh News & Observer lead soccer writer Alex Andrejev, “Payback” frames the USWNT’s fight for pay equity through the story of team member Jessica McDonald. A former star high school basketball player from Arizona and gifted natural athlete, McDonald led her Phoenix-based soccer club to seven consecutive titles before being recruited by University of North Carolina. In 2010, with two national titles with the Tar Heels under her belt, McDonald was drafted by the Chicago Red Stars. Two years later, she would give birth to her son, making McDonald the only single mother in the National Women’s Soccer League, at a time when the league’s maximum annual salary was only $31,500. McDonald was earning closer to the league minimum of $6,500.
“[I] got traded a lot, and had to find new babysitters and child care all the time,” McDonald said. “If I put [my son] in daycare, that’s my entire paycheck.” It is that delicate balancing act between the demands of children and career that is at the center of McDonald’s story. In 2019, the 31-year-old McDonald was chosen by U.S. Soccer to join the USWNT World Cup roster, which was expected to capture another tournament title. Ongoing pay inequality would prompt the players, including McDonald, to file a landmark lawsuit against U.S. Soccer.
While the pay inequities were systemic throughout elite women’s soccer in the U.S., those inequalities were felt more acutely by McDonald, as both a single mother and a woman of color. “Payback” is a story told at the intersection of race, gender and class, and is a microcosm of the hurdles faced by many women looking to crack glass ceilings.
“It is no accident that we are unveiling this series during Women’s History Month,” said Charlotte Observer editor Rana L. Cash. “This is a story about women’s soccer, but this same story of systemic pay inequality could be told about any number of institutions and industries. Women make enormous contributions in every field and endeavor, but ‘Payback’ is a stark reminder that being the best is often still not enough, and that organizations sometimes need to be forced into doing the right thing.”
“As a champion at UNC, a champion with the North Carolina Courage and a champion with the national team, Jessica McDonald has a rightful place in the pantheon of North Carolina sports luminaries,” said News & Observer editor Bill Church. “For us, hers is a remarkable local story with national impact—and it’s just the kind of story McClatchy newsrooms are ideally positioned to tell.”
"Payback" is the second season in an anthology of character-driven audio documentaries co-produced by iHeartMedia and McClatchy, called "Longshot." The series, which debuted with "Return Man," a podcast investigating the mysterious death of former pro-football player Jim Duncan, focuses exclusively on the intersection of sports and social change. The series is distributed by the iHeartPodcast Network and is available on iHeartRadio and everywhere podcasts are heard.
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