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Title IX stories: Cindy Parlow Cone just getting started as U.S. Soccer president

By Doug McIntyre
FOX Sports Soccer Writer

EDITOR’S NOTE: This story is a part of FOX Sports’ collection commemorating the fiftieth anniversary of Title IX, which was enacted into regulation on June 23, 1972. The collection tells the tales of serious ladies in sports activities in the present day, each celebrating the progress that has been made and recognizing the boundaries that also stay.

The date is March 12, 2020. The emergence of a novel coronavirus has introduced the world to a standstill, leaving tens of millions of individuals world wide remoted from each other. 

Schools and places of work throughout the globe are about to shutter indefinitely. Most sports activities have already gone darkish; MLB, MLS, the NCAA, the NHL and the PGA suspended their seasons or canceled or postponed their tournaments, following the NBA’s lead a day earlier. Just about everybody in every single place is experiencing some degree of shock.

Cindy Parlow Cone is about to be blindsided once more. That night time, U.S. Soccer Federation president Carlos Cordeiro will step down amid a backlash over a authorized submitting that disparaged the flexibility of gamers on the World Cup champion ladies’s nationwide staff. His resignation will make Cone, as soon as a hard-tackling midfielder on the enduring 1999 USWNT and on the time Cordeiro’s VP, the brand new president and the primary girl to carry the place.

It was a job she by no means coveted even beneath regular circumstances.

“I used to be actually like, holy s—,” Cone advised FOX Sports in a latest interview. “The offensive authorized submitting had just come out. The whole world was offended at U.S. Soccer. Sponsors are threatening to go away. And now we’ve this world pandemic, and we don’t know once we’re going to have one other match or when income goes to begin coming again in. Oh, and we had no CEO or chief business officer. 

“I don’t know if there’s a day that’s worse to grow to be president. But I wasn’t going to shrink back from the problem.”

Just a little greater than two years later, Cone is being described by some as nothing lower than a hero. She gained reelection to the unpaid place twice, together with earlier this 12 months, when she survived a problem by Cordeiro to reclaim his previous seat.

And crucially, she did what no person earlier than her was in a position to: reach a settlement with the USWNT over its equal pay lawsuit and hammer out an identical collective bargaining agreements with the ladies’s and males’s nationwide groups that assure the 2 squads equal compensation and prize cash going ahead. It’s an unprecedented achievement in ladies’s soccer.

It in all probability wouldn’t have occurred with out Cone on the helm. “When she was the vice president, she made overtures to the gamers just to type of open up dialogue and create a relationship,” mentioned USWNT captain Becky Sauerbrunn, who didn’t know Cone all that nicely beforehand. “I feel it made it so much simpler once we have been negotiating.”

Putting within the unglamorous work behind the scenes and doing the necessary little issues that typically go unnoticed was additionally how Cone approached her profession as a participant. On a “99ers” squad full of outsized personalities such as Julie Foudy, Mia Hamm and Carla Overbeck, Cone didn’t need to be the face of the staff. She had the liberty to just do her job. 

“No one cared how nicely or poorly I performed. They solely cared if Mia scored or not,” mentioned Cone, who describes herself as an “excessive introvert.” “We had so many sturdy leaders that it was wonderful for me to be the quiet child and contribute after I might.

“But,” she added, “I realized a lot from them and thru my different experiences that when it was time to guide, I used to be prepared.”

She wanted to be. The relationship between the federation and the USWNT was in tatters when Cone changed Cordeiro. She may need been a former participant, however she was additionally considered by the present locker room with a wholesome quantity of skepticism. After all, she was now representing administration throughout bargaining classes. 

Still, her background as an athlete and, sure, her gender introduced a degree of credibility to the desk that had been lacking. Her presence alone mattered.

“The incontrovertible fact that one of many largest, high-profile federations on this planet has a feminine president, that’s an enormous assertion,” former USWNT coach Jill Ellis mentioned.

It solely goes to date, although. Trust nonetheless wanted to be earned over time. So Cone made it some extent to do every thing she mentioned she would and to not promise something she couldn’t ship. To hear Sauerbrunn inform it, that easy method was extra necessary to ultimately getting a deal carried out than Cone’s standing as a former professional.

“She’s just a no bulls— type of particular person, which I actually respect,” Sauerbrunn mentioned. “She was sincere with us, which stored the road of communication open. When the attorneys have been out of the room, we might speak to one another.”

“Cindy has all the time been approachable,” mentioned Portland Thorns normal supervisor Karina LeBlanc, who was coached by Cone on the 2013 NWSL Cup-winning Thorns staff and has identified her for greater than 20 years. “I can sit down and speak to her about something.”

While Cone’s character is unassuming, she has by no means been shy about pursuing her targets. At 13, she determined that she would attend the University of North Carolina on a soccer scholarship. Four years later, she made it occur.

That steely dedication has come in useful as USSF president. Originally, Cone meant to stay within the position solely till early 2021. She needed to be satisfied to remain on till the top of the 12 months, operating unopposed.

Running for reelection a second time was a neater choice; she didn’t wish to depart her submit till the lawsuit had been resolved and the brand new CBAs for the nationwide groups signed. The USSF settled the previous in February for $24 million; the CBAs have been inked final month.

“Now I can begin working towards really rising the sport,” Cone mentioned.

U.S. Soccer, USWNT, USMNT comply with historic equal-pay deal

The U.S. Soccer Federation introduced a historic cope with the USMNT and USWNT wherein all athletes will likely be paid equally, together with an excellent cut up of World Cup bonuses. Colin Cowherd reacts to the information.

With nearly 4 full years left in her time period, there’s loads of work nonetheless to do. Creating alternatives for others to comply with in her footsteps is one among her goals.

“Just about each room I stroll into, I’m the one girl,” Cone mentioned. “I’m proud to be that girl, however there must be extra.”

That’s one thing LeBlanc and Cone have talked about each time they crossed paths in recent times.

“If I do know something about Cindy, she’s going to maintain difficult to take the ladies’s sport ahead,” mentioned LeBlanc, who served as CONCACAF’s head of girls’s soccer earlier than taking up the Thorns final fall. “She’s an instance of why holding former gamers within the sport is so necessary. If you all the time have the identical folks sitting on the desk, it’s going to be robust to develop. Elite athletes know what it’s wish to be a part of one thing that’s greater than themselves.”

Cone actually understands being a part of a profitable staff. “I wish to work laborious and do every thing I can to attain regardless of the objective is, whether or not it’s successful the World Cup or getting the CBA carried out,” she mentioned.

Now she has carried out each.

“Her being there bought the CBA and the settlement throughout the road,” Sauerbrunn mentioned. “I feel we might’ve gotten there ultimately, however in all probability not throughout my profession. She undoubtedly bought us there so much sooner.”

Considering the laundry record of challenges that Cone confronted when she inherited the job two years in the past, what she has achieved is all of the extra spectacular.

“She made a aware choice to be a voice, be seen and construct a neighborhood,” Ellis mentioned. “Cindy has been extremely courageous.”

And her success has been no accident — even when being U.S. Soccer’s president wasn’t initially a part of her plan.

One of the main soccer journalists in North America, Doug McIntyre has coated United States males’s and ladies’s nationwide groups at a number of FIFA World Cups. Before becoming a member of FOX Sports in 2021, he was a workers author with ESPN and Yahoo Sports. Follow him on Twitter at @ByDougMcIntyre.

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