U.S. Soccer Supports Working Moms. Are You Watching, America?
Whether the U.S. women’s national soccer team continues to dominate the sport with a third-consecutive World Cup victory this summer, it’s already distinguished by a rare phenomenon on elite sport rosters: moms.
That story serves as a valuable case study for what can happen when employers start treating moms as assets rather than annoyances.
American companies are notoriously bad at supporting working moms. For most of their history, professional sports have been a particularly hostile workplace. Not for fathers. Tom Brady, Michael Jordan, Tiger Woods — all professionals, all dads. But their fatherhood is a footnote, if it’s mentioned at all, in discussions of their performance at work.
“I never wanted to have to choose between tennis and a family,” tennis legend Serena Williams wrote when she announced her retirement in 2022. “If I were a guy, I wouldn’t be writing this because I’d be out there playing and winning while my wife was doing the physical labor of expanding our family.”
Against that backdrop, what’s happening in soccer as the U.S. women defend their World Cup title in Australia and New Zealand looks even more remarkable. A record number of moms were in training camps this spring, with Alex Morgan, Crystal Dunn and Julie Ertz making it onto the final World Cup roster, tying the record set by the 2015 World Cup team.
Pregnant professional athletes pose a particularly complex challenge for their employers. A nurse or a lawyer could theoretically work until the moment her water breaks, take four weeks of postpartum leave and be considered lucky. (As it stands, 1 in 4 working moms in the United States return to work within 10 days.) At minimum, many athletes need six months away from competition, considering most doctors advise against participation in contact sports after the first trimester.
Real support that can prevent a mass loss of talent means funding a robust paid-leave policy, resources to support the return to competition and ongoing child-care benefits.