Jill Ellis at PRS: Part 3

Women’s Soccer, Social Justice & Equal Opportunity


photo by Kris Captanis (PRS Communications)

Calista Lowery (’26) asks Jill Ellis a question.

Question #8: Women soccer players in the US have been leaders in the global movement for closing the gender pay gap in professional sports, along with addressing many other issues about diversity, equity and inclusion.  Have you ever experienced this discrimination in your career as a player, coach or administratorand, if so, how did you respond to that?

Well, the short answer is yes, yes, and yes. I think the reality of the sports landscape is, even in women’s sports, it’s heavily serviced and staffed by male coaches. And so every time I went and did a coaching license, I was the only female in the course. Three years, four years ago I did my pro license and it was me and all these MLS coaches and I was the only female in the course. So you’re constantly in the minority as a female. And in terms of pay and pay equity, I mean I applaud our women’s national team. They brought this platform and they talked about it and they pushed for it, and it’s been really brought into conversation and put front and center. I remember, you know I was asked by a reporter, “Do you think the Women’s National Team should be paid the same?” And, you know, at the time my daughter Lily was young and I said, “I’ve got a young daughter and if she’s doing the same job, with the same expertise, with the same expectations, yes I hope they are getting paid the same.”

But the reality was that my salary compared to the Men’s National Team coach’s salary was even more disproportionate than the players to the players. It was something that, you know, what I knew as a head coach is if I spoke openly about it, it would always be the first question at every press conference. It would take the focus off of the players, off of what we are trying to do, and really steer it towards this, and I didn’t want to be front and center. And so, I just, you know, I felt like the best way to kind of push and advocate was to empower these women, help them get on the biggest stage in the world. When you have a platform in front of millions, your voices can have an impact.

And, you know on a personal level, I was coaching, and I was just kind of putting my head down as coach and doing the job. But then one day this women called me—she works at the University of Minnesota, and I didn’t know her that well—and she said to me, “Jill, can I give you some advice?” And I said, “Yeah, of course, whatcha got.” And she said, “You have a platform,” and she goes, “My advice to you is to be visible, be a voice, and build a community as a female leader.” And I paused and I thought, you know what, this is something that I didn’t really care about being a role model, I just wanted to do my job. But then what I realized is I did have a responsibility, because I did have a platform. And, it doesn’t matter whether you’re overseeing three people or three thousand people. All of us, all of you, you have voices, you have a platform. And it was at that moment that I really decided that I did need to step forward, and actually went on record supporting the women, because you have to understand, here’s my bosses, here are my players, my players are suing my bosses and I’m somewhere in the middle. So, it wasn’t a super cool and comfortable place to be, but I realized at that moment, my comfort level wasn’t important. What was more important was about supporting these women and bringing this to the front.

Same with LGBTQ rights, you know I never spoke about it, and I’ll share this with you. For a long time in my career I never spoke about my family. I just kind of kept my head down and did my job and I realized, “Wow, that’s a disservice to me, to them, and to the community that I live within.” So, I think it’s a really important part to speak out and speak up and I really now have embraced that. So every opportunity I have, I will go and speak to groups.

There is a scholarship I started at US soccer and basically, I said “what are you doing with that money?” And they were like, Well…” And I said, “Why don’t you give it to all the female coaches that are trying to get their license?” Because what we’re trying to do is open doors. And sometimes financials can be the factor that stops people from being able to do it. So, we’re trying to just eliminate barriers so women can have access. At the end of the day, I don’t want to see the number of female coaches or female leaders decline. And that’s a big reason why I took the Wave job.

I coached for thirty years and, you know, I was probably leaning towards going back to coaching—and then I realized that the only way we’re going to change, and the only way we are going to bring this forward, is we need more females in boardrooms. We need more females in senior offices. So when I got the opportunity to be president of the Wave, I was able to hire a female head coach, there’s only one in the league, I was able to hire a female GM, she was the first one. (Coach Ellis chuckles.) Don’t worry fellas, I got plenty of dudes working for me too. But, the reality is, it was an opportunity for me to showcase that there are very, very talented women out there. In fact, I’ll finish with this. The president of one of the clubs in the league called me and he said—this was when I just got the job—“Are you going to hire a female head coach, Jill?” And I said, “Yes, I am.” And he said, “Well, there’s not that many out there, not many good ones out there.” And I said, “Well, there are if you look, respectfully.” And guess what? Our coach last year, Casey Stoney, was the National Coach of the Year in the league. So if you look hard enough—not even hard enough, if you look—you’ll find one.

Question #9: Last October Sally Q. Yates released a report on the National Women’s Soccer League, detailing systemic harassment and abuse of authority in some team organizations. Can you talk about what you’re currently working on, for example in your roles with the San Diego Wave and FIFA, to ensure that such harassment and abuse cannot occur in future?

That’s a great question, very timely question, and I think that what we’re seeing is that it’s not just in soccer, it’s across the board, right? In many many areas. From a league perspective, the league has obviously dismissed the people who were abusing players and now they have a big push and a big program on systemic reform. Last week we had a group coming out and talking about harassment and what harassment means and what it is, so a lot of education and a lot of transparency, more mechanisms for people to report safely, just a whole push. And we want players to feel and be in a safe environment, education for coaches for what’s appropriate and inappropriate—you know, screaming at someone—and we can have conversations. I think primarily a lot of education from the youth level, internally and in our own club—our players you know really lean into this. One of the things that we really want to try and do is to be role models and help create change in the youth landscape, right? You go out to the fields and you see parents yelling, coaches yelling, it’s just, some of the behaviors out there are shocking, and so our players have put together a sort of manifesto of all of the things they want to implement, trying to help not just our community in San Diego, so we’re creating coaching education within our program for coaches in our whole region. It’s coaching education, but we have a group of players who have formed a committee and they sort of drive the changes that we want to see, the expectations, and just really raise the standards and how we facilitate the environments we create for our players.

For Jill Ellis at PRS: Part 4 (Losses & Life Lessons, Failure as a Path to Success), click here.

To return to the top page of Jill Ellis at PRS, click here.

To read about the experiences of PRS student journalists when staging the Jill Ellis event, click on the following links for reflections by Gwen Laats, Mykelle Brainard, Nolan Agresti and Evan Buchholtz.