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The 2019 TIME athlete of the year isn’t a single person after all. Instead, the publication looked at the entire sports landscape and concluded that all 23 women on the U.S. women’s national soccer team were deserving of the honor.
There was simply no other choice. No other athlete or team captivated and impacted the world in 2019 more than the USWNT.
The choice wasn’t just about on-field results. Yes, the women won the World Cup in dominating fashion. A 13-0 drubbing of Thailand kicked things off, and a 2-0 victory against the Netherlands in the final completed that run.
On the way, the USWNT inspired and ignited folks around the world — and in the United States — both politically and socially. The team’s fight for equal pay became a rallying cry among both casual fans and those powerful enough to create legislation that could alter soccer’s status quo.
Megan Rapinoe was the talk of the event, not just because she scored six goals and received the Golden Boot award, but also because she stood up for her beliefs and did not back down when President Donald Trump came after her.
And while some were angry about the women’s willingness to speak out on issues they believed were important, the numbers suggest many embraced — or were at least interested by — the team’s message and approach.
The team’s jerseys became the highest-selling soccer shirts in Nike’s history. On the online retailer Fanatics, U.S. jersey sales spiked 500% over the 2015 World Cup. Global viewership of the tournament more than doubled per match, and a combined 1.12 billion viewers worldwide tuned in to coverage of the event across all platforms, a new record. On Halloween, young boys as well as girls were spotted around the country dressed up as Rapinoe and [Alex] Morgan.
While TIME’s award only focuses on 2019, the USWNT isn’t done fighting just yet. The equal pay fight will extend into 2020. The gender discrimination lawsuit the team filed against U.S. Soccer will go to trial in May. In July, the team will take part in the 2020 Olympics.
All of that creates a scenario where it’s easy to see the USWNT contending for the TIME athlete of the year award again in 2020. Compared to everything the team accomplished in 2019, taking home the award two years in a row shouldn’t be a challenge.
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