Celebration

On the ground at the U.S. Women’s World Cup ticker-tape parade

American pride was on display in New York City

After the U.S. women’s soccer team’s triumphant World Cup Final win on Sunday night, New York City Mayor Bill de Blasio announced that they would be feted with a rare honor: a ticker-tape parade. The celebration, which cost about $2 million, took place Friday in downtown New York City and I ventured out from the office to take in the spectacle. It was overcrowded, difficult to see the players, and a maze to escape from, but one thing was clear: America needed this victory.

Locals and tourists alike swarmed the Broadway stretch between Battery Park and City Hall beneath the looming Freedom Tower, eagerly awaiting their heroines to roll through the Canyon of Heroes. “People are cutting in front of me!” one boy screamed at his mother, who replied, “Well, that’s how these things work.”

It was like July 4th for the second time this month amidst red, white, and blue garb: plastic top hats, starburst head-boppers, sequined scrunchies and pinwheeling headbands. The city’s summer heat didn’t stop fans from wearing star-spangled scarves, either. Men and women in suits stared down from air-conditioned glass towers. On the streets, we slowly baked beneath the sun, but the air was filled with elation. Beaming girls proudly wore their soccer uniforms. Men and women wore U.S. women’s soccer jerseys. (Good thing Nike finally decided to manufacture them for men.) Though, everyone will need new gear now that jerseys will include a third star above the team badge signifying this latest World Cup win.

Although several women have received ticker-tape parades in the past, including Amelia Earhart, Friday was the first time the honor was bestowed on a women’s sports team and the first in 30 years to honor a team not located in the city. The last female athlete feted with a parade was 1960 Olympic gold medalist figure skater and Queens native Carol Heiss Jenkins.

Though the city reportedly scrambled to pull the parade together in under a week, despite a lack of sponsors and a host of unwanted controversy, it appeared to go off without a hitch: A roaring police motorcade signaled its start and cheers erupted from the crowd. Bands thumped their drums and blew their horns, and “USA! USA! USA!” blared from a firetruck’s speakers.

The activist group UltraViolet planned to fly a plane overhead to draw attention to their Equal Pay for Equal Play campaign, which highlights the fact that the U.S. women’s soccer team received $2 million for their win, while the U.S. men’s team was awarded $8 million even though they lost in the first round of the World Cup last year.

The roaring cheers grew as the players approached. “Here they come!” someone shouted, and right on cue, everyone lifted their iPhones and GoPros. “Put your freaking phones down!” someone in the back screamed. (Ah, New York.) Full-grown adults were hoisted onto the shoulders of other full-grown adults so they could get a better shot. A blizzard of confetti fell upon us. Toilet paper streamers swirled through the sky.

After some parents snapped photos of the floats, they passed their phones down to their children below, who zoomed in and declared the sunglass-clad players in each shot. Some players waved like beauty pageant queens, others jumped and struck their fists in the air. (According to the children orbiting me, Sydney Leroux blew kisses to the crowd.)

Erinn Fallon, a teacher from Brooklyn, was inspired to make, bring, and hold a sign that read, “Hey Gals, Thanks for making Herstory!”

“When the U.S. women’s soccer team won the World Cup in 1999, it was such a fantastic event from my childhood,” Fallon told me. “I know a lot of people now who were young girls back then, and they felt so inspired by it, too. With all the social media surrounding this year’s World Cup and the TV ratings, I can’t imagine how much this will impact and empower girls today. They’ll know that they can do anything and become whoever they want to become.”

As the parade came to a close, sanitation workers began sweeping up water-soaked confetti. In the distance, Kool & The Gang’s “Celebration” blared and a blimp promoting the new Peanuts movie idly bopped back and forth above. Lines began to form around hot dog and Italian ice stands, and freshly sunburned families made their ways to the nearby 9/11 Memorial. Corner hustlers hawked $10 “World Champions” T-shirts, free maps of restaurants in Chinatown, or pamphlets that urged people to repent for their sins, “before it’s too late.”

It was invigorating to witness the passion that all these strangers had for a small group of players. Rare is the event that compels people to be so exhilarated that they can’t even physically contain it. As the city and country celebrate the momentous victory, a conversation is unfolding about gender equality in sports. The win has brought several issues into focus, but let’s hope the conversations won’t dissolve. As the Nike posters handed out during the parade read: “One, Two, Three, More.”

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