Thousands lined the Canyon of Heroes in Manhattan Wednesday to cheer for this country’s newest sports heroes — the USA Women’s Soccer team, which was fresh from winning the World Cup Sunday, the second consecutive title and a record fourth.

As Connecticut native and team goalkeeper Alyssa Naeher held the trophy aloft during the ticker tape parade, it would seem we have come a long way, literally and figuratively, from 1972 when the federal civil rights law Title IX asserted that girls should have equal access to school sports programs as boys.

The on-top-of-the-world soccer women embody success in sports.

But in this regard, they are decades behind — they do not receive equal pay from the soccer federation. And this team is rightfully using its new celebrity status to draw attention to the issue. They sued the U.S. Soccer Federation in March for gender and pay discrimination.

The team will receive $4 million for winning the World Cup from FIFA, the international soccer governing body. (By comparison, the men’s French team got $38 million for winning last year.) Their bonuses will be about five times less from the USSF than the men would have earned for winning the World Cup, according to the online site RapidTVNews. The U.S. men, however, lost in a regional contest hours after the women won.

And just as the female Huskies basketball team has a strong following, the women’s soccer team was able to attract substantial viewership.

The defeat of the Netherlands Sunday averaged 6.9 million out-of-home viewers, according to Tunity Analytics, outperforming the US men’s final last year, which averaged 4.98 million out-of-home viewers.

Why should the men get paid more than the women? Simply, they shouldn’t.

The situation is more complicated with contracts and branding royalties, but the unfair essence of pay disparity remains.

Connecticut has made some progress in addressing pay equity. Last year, for example, the Legislature passed a law barring employers from asking applicants about employment pay history, a question which has limited women’s earning potential.

The USA Women’s Soccer team is drawing attention for other reasons, as well: Several members are openly gay. This is how it should be in society — your sexual orientation should be no more a factor than, say, your religion.

“We got pink hair and purple hair. We got tattoos and dreadlocks. We got white girls and black girls and everything in between. We got straight girls and gay girls,” said team co-captain Megan Rapinoe, the top World Cup scorer, after the parade down Broadway.

With their spectacular sports prowess and in standing up for who they are and for equal pay, these women are inspirations.

As Rapinoe exhorted spectators, “This is my charge to everyone: We have to be better, we have to love more and hate less. Listen more and talk less. It is our responsibility to make this world a better place.”

Yes, it is our responsibility, too.

Connecticut Media Group