The Charlotte Observer and Raleigh News & Observer newspapers are collaborating with iHeartRadio to create 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. The result is the podcast Payback as well as a multimedia anthology that includes text stories, videos, graphic art and novel design that was conceived, developed and led entirely by women.
“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.”
The Payback podcast is hosted by Charlotte Observer and Raleigh News & Observer lead soccer writer Alex Andrejev. In the series, she frames the USWNT’s fight for pay equity through the story of team member Jessica McDonald. 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 was 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.
Those pay inequalities prompted the players, including McDonald, to file a landmark lawsuit against U.S. Soccer. On February 22, the six-year legal battle between U.S. Soccer and the USWNT came to an end with an announced $24 million 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.
“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 debuted with the “Return Man” season in Jan. 2021 with a series investigating the mysterious death of former pro-football player Jim Duncan.