Corporations and sponsors are the next step in fight toward equal pay, attorney John Langel says

John Langel, who helped U.S. Soccer and the U.S. women's hockey team makes strides toward pay equity, recounted the decades-long legal battles to get where we are today.

NEWPORT BEACH, Calif. -- John Langel wants to be clear.

The athletes are doing what they can to pave the way toward pay equity in women's sports.

"It's the corporate responsibility that needs to happen," he said.

Langel, who spoke Tuesday at the eighth annual espnW: Women + Sports Summit, has represented both the U.S. women's soccer national team and the U.S. women's hockey team in their pursuits of equal pay.

Last March, Langel and Dee Spagnuolo of the law firm Ballard Spahr represented members of the U.S. women's hockey team that threatened to sit out the IIHF World Championship unless progress was made to secure what players considered to be fair wages and support from USA Hockey. Two weeks later, USA Hockey and the U.S. women's national team agreed to a landmark new contract to avert the players' boycott.

Langel said the hockey players' unified effort -- which was reminiscent of the soccer players' push -- played a key part in the discussions in March.

"They had a vision, they knew what they wanted and knew how to get there," said Langel, adding that social media helped U.S. hockey players reach out to other leagues and players' associations for support.

But now it's time, he said, for corporations and sponsors to step up. According to Langel, the legal model for equal pay "has been in place since JFK and Lyndon Johnson."

"It's the corporate response to apply the legal model that's lacking," he said. "Corporations wait to be sued before they make the adjustments."

Julie Foudy, who moderated the panel and was among the soccer players who worked directly with Langel when he was initially brought on board to work with the U.S. women's national team, says she and teammates often joked that Langel had two sons, but a hundred daughters. But he drew on the experiences of his own 9½-year-old granddaughter to further his point.

"She plays basketball, she plays soccer, but she can't buy a women's branded basketball shoe because there is not one [made] today," he said. "She has to play in Steph Curry's shoes.

"The shoe company says it didn't sell before. I'm not a believer that it won't sell now. So it's [on] the corporate responsibility and the sponsors to believe that it'll happen and to do it."

Foudy said she looks forward to the day when athletes don't have to threaten to sit out major events like a World Cup or an Olympics.

"I feel like we're at a tipping point in the soccer world," she said, "but it's such a shame that it has to be so athlete-driven."

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