NEW YORK — Ticker tape floated out of the windows of the law firm at the corner of Broadway and Vesey Street in gentle flurries at first. But by the time the float bearing Megan Rapinoe and Julie Ertz passed by, huge clumps of shredded legal documents were falling out of the sky. Tangles of paper—and at one point an actual book—rained down over the gathered crowd chanting “USA! USA! USA!” as the stars of the U.S. women’s national team rolled by during their victory parade.
A little girl wearing a headband with red, white, and blue pom-poms on it stretched her arms through the falling paper toward Rapinoe, screaming “Megan!” from her perch atop her father’s shoulders. Rapinoe took out her phone and held it toward the girl, then turned her camera up to the sky before leaning over the railing of the float. She grinned as she filmed everyone reaching toward her over metal gates lining Broadway.
Even though it was a week after the Fourth of July, Wednesday felt like a real Independence Day in New York. Thousands gathered to celebrate the USA players who returned from France as Women's World Cup champions for the fourth time after Sunday’s 2-0 victory against the Netherlands. Fans streamed out of the subway stations in USWNT jerseys, carrying signs like “Ertz so good!” and “We Won’t Stop Watching.” A woman wearing the American flag as a cape walked up and down the sidewalk with her young daughter in a Wonder Woman costume on her shoulders. A group of motorcyclists, all women, led the parade honking their horns. There were followed by bagpipers playing Amazing Grace.
Addison Tuttle, a 9-year-old from Port Jefferson, sat on her mother Debbie Tuttle’s shoulders. They woke up at 5 a.m. to get a good spot along the route. Addison’s favorite player is Alex Morgan, who put away five goals in the team’s first match against Thailand and later mimed sipping tea after she scored against England. Addison, who plays soccer, loved watching Morgan because “she’s so good.” Addison even put together a report on Morgan for her fourth grade class and held the project up over her head at the parade.
One section of the poster board read: “The equipment Alex Morgan or anyone needs to play soccer is a soccer ball, cleats, shin guards, a jersey, shorts, and socks.” Another section said, “In 2010 (year I was born!) she moved up to the US National team.”
“When Alex did the tea [celebration], it was funny. I was so happy watching,” Addison said, when ask about her favorite moment.
Rachel Peiger and Azria Maloy, who stood near Addison, loved Morgan’s celebration too. Peiger and Maloy recently graduated from high school in Woodbury, Conn. Both are planning to play soccer in college.
“It’s been awesome, it’s been so cool and so breathtaking watching them play,” Peiger said. “You should have the right to celebrate and do what you want. I mean, I get the controversy, but if you’re gonna score, score. It’s pretty cool.”
There’s been plenty of controversy, regardless of whether it was manufactured or real. Players were bold in their victory, vocal about their success and adamant about their values, which some people saw as poor sportsmanship and a lack of patriotism rather than the show of strength it really was. The Daily Mail splashed a “Are these American stars too arrogant?” headline across a story spread, with a picture of Morgan sticking her tongue out and Rapinoe pointing at the camera. When video of Rapinoe emphatically saying wouldn’t go to the White House made the rounds, President Donald Trump went on a three-tweet rant about her. “I am a big fan of the American Team, and Women’s Soccer, but Megan should WIN first before she TALKS! Finish the job!” he wrote. Rapinoe, despite recovering from a hamstring injury, suited up for the final and went on to the eventual game-winning goal on a penalty kick, sealing golden boot and golden ball honors in the process.
It was Rapinoe’s outspokenness that made Diane Tanchack watch soccer for the first time. The 69-year-old, who came to the parade with Randye Bernfeld, 60, didn’t even know the rules of soccer when she began following the team’s World Cup run. But a friend suggested they watch, and since Tanchack and Bernfeld love the WNBA, they figured they’d tune in.
“I’m a fan of Rapinoe,” Tanchack said. “And when they asked if she won if she was going to the White House, and she said she wasn’t ‘going to the f—ing White House,’ I said, ‘This woman’s interesting.’ I wasn’t a soccer fan, but I am now.”
It was hard not to get emotional as the champions rolled by and little kids—mostly girls, but a fair amount of boys, too—whooped and yelled players’ names. It brought back memories of being 10 and watching the team win it all in 1999–20 years ago to the day on Wednesday–with my youth soccer team. We all cried as Brandi Chastain ripped off her jersey and slid to her knees after scoring the winning penalty kick vs. China, then immediately ran into a friend’s backyard for a pick-up game. There's a vivid memory of dribbling toward the goal and feeling like I was running faster than I ever had. Lightness and hope, which came from watching people who looked like me and represented the place I was from win on the biggest stage, bubbled beneath my ribcage.
There was a similar feeling watching them win on Sunday and again on Wednesday, seeing girls like Addison and women like Tanchack who had gathered to celebrate the 2019 champions. As Crystal Dunn and Tobin Heath rolled by, they chanted, “Equal pay! Equal pay!” It's a reference to the gender discrimination lawsuit the USWNT filed against U.S. Soccer, for which the two sides will attempt to find common ground through mediation. Women, men, and children of all different walks of life raised their fists and chanted along with the players. Kids and their parents played in the confetti, throwing paper into the sky.
“It’s very inspiring,” Peiger said, as she and Maloy posed for a picture together. But even without the photo evidence, Wednesday—and this trailblazing team—was something they won’t ever forget.