Olivia Moultrie, 15, has been granted a preliminary injunction by a judge that prohibits the National Women's Soccer League from enforcing its age rule to stop her from signing a professional contract with a club in the league and paves the way for her to play.
The injunction was issued on Thursday after Moultrie filed an antitrust lawsuit on May 4 that stated that as Major League Soccer allowed players under the age of 18 to sign with clubs, it was against the Sherman Antitrust Act for the NWSL to enforce an age rule that doesn't allow players who are younger than 18 to sign professional contracts.
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Moultrie was granted a 14-day temporary restraining order on May 24 while the court examined the merits of a preliminary injunction.
"The evidence presented since this Court granted the TRO does not alter its conclusion that the NWSL and its 10 teams have agreed to impose the NWSL's age restriction which excludes female competitors from the only available professional soccer opportunity in the United States because they are under 18, regardless of talent, maturity, strength, and ability," U.S. District Judge Karin Immergut wrote in delivering her decision on Thursday.
"This Court again finds that the merits clearly favor Plaintiff's [Moultrie's] position, that she will be irreparably harmed if it does not grant the preliminary injunction, and that the balance of equities and the public interest strongly favor affording girls in the United States the same opportunities as boys."
When reached for comment, an NWSL spokeswoman said the league will appeal the decision.
"The district court's ruling makes clear and affirms NWSL's long-held position that whether NWSL has an 'Age Rule' should ultimately be determined through collective bargaining with the NWSL Players Association," read a statement sent to ESPN. "Because Federal labor law requires that issues such as eligibility for employment be decided through collective bargaining and not the courts when there is a recognized union and ongoing collective bargaining, the NWSL will file a notice of an expedited appeal to the Ninth Circuit Court of Appeals to address those and other errors in the district court's opinion. Out of deference to the collective bargaining process and the NWSL Players Association, NWSL will not comment further on the litigation."
The NWSL and the NWSL Players Association are engaged in talks over a collective bargaining agreement (CBA). If an agreement is reached, and if it includes an age restriction, then the CBA could supersede any court order. The NWSL continues to contend that CBA negotiations are where the issue should be resolved.
Moultrie accepted a scholarship offer to North Carolina when she was 11 and signed a deal with Nike two years later. She has been training with the Portland Thorns and has competed with the squad but only in preseason and friendly games.
The youngest signing ever in Major League Soccer was Freddy Adu at age 14.
Another 14-year-old, goalkeeper Emmanuel Ochoa, was signed to a Homegrown Player contract by the San Jose Earthquakes in 2019.
There are age limits for other men's professional leagues in the United States.
Boys have to be 18 to sign with a Major League Baseball team (17 for internationals), 19 for the NHL and 19 for the NBA.
NFL players have to be out of high school for at least three years.
WNBA players have to be 22 by Dec. 31 of the year they're drafted.