Cindy Parlow Cone, president of U.S. Soccer, on her historic leadership in achieving equal pay for U.S. women’s soccer
Written by Laurelle Maubert ’25 of the Morehead-Cain Scholar Media Team
Whether on or off the field, Cindy Parlow Cone has spent a lifetime advocating for female soccer players.
In trading her jersey for a blazer, the UNC Women’s Soccer alumna has continued her historic streak in the sport: Cone is U.S. Soccer’s first-ever female president.
Her leadership, however, has done much more than provide much-needed representation for women.
Cone successfully reached a historic collective-bargaining agreement (CBA) with the women’s and men’s national teams in May 2022. The agreement made the United States the first country to achieve gender equality in its pay for soccer athletes.
Being several ‘firsts’
Cone’s presidency is one of several firsts. In addition to being the organization’s first female president, she is also the first president to have previously played for a senior U.S. national team.
Her experiences as a player at UNC–Chapel Hill is what inspired her to run for vice president and have contributed to her effectiveness as an advocate for women in the sport, she said.
“When I ran for vice president, I did so because I felt like it was important for a former player to be there in the room when decisions were being made about our sport,” said Cone. The National Soccer Hall of Famer spoke on Morehead-Cain’s Catalyze podcast before her Food for Thought talk at the Foundation this spring.
Shortly after becoming vice president, the president of U.S. Soccer stepped down in 2020, making Cone the natural choice as the successor for the role.
Cone: ‘To be in a position to actually impact change was really important for me’
Although becoming president of the organization so soon was a surprise, Cone wasted no time working on an issue she had been familiar with for over 20 years: equal pay for women.
“Coming into the presidency, there was finally someone in this position who understood what the women were going through, why they were so angry and frustrated,” the former player said. “To be in a position to actually impact change was really important for me.”
The two-and-a-half-year journey to equal pay “did not happen overnight,” as Cone described the process.
Negotiating one collective bargaining agreement (CBA) is challenging enough. Still, Cone needed to negotiate two CBAs concurrently, along with handling litigation over the discrepancies in prize money during the 2018 and 2019 FIFA World Cup competitions.
Adding to the challenge was that, for the settlement from the women’s litigation to go through, she needed to finalize the CBAs for both the men’s and the women’s teams.
Cone is open about the difficulties that she encountered during this process.
“One moment, you feel like everything’s coming together, and then the next, you feel like everything’s falling apart,” she said.
Despite the difficulty of the process, Cone is grateful to everyone involved, particularly the men’s and women’s teams and their players’ associations for “coming back to the table.”
“Everyone kept coming back to the table because we all wanted to figure this out and figure out the path forward. And I am just so excited about where we landed and the path that we’re moving toward.”
The ripple effect of equal pay
In reaching equal pay for U.S. Soccer, Cone hopes other sports and industries will be inspired to do the same.
“We all know that equal pay isn’t just a women’s soccer issue. It’s not just a women’s sports issue. It’s an issue in every industry,” she said. “We’re already starting to see the ripple effect of what we’re doing.”
Acknowledging how extraordinary the CBA agreement decisions were, Cone encouraged others to trust the process in the fight for equal pay.
“We know that not everyone around the world can do what we did in terms of reaching equal pay. But the important thing is that everyone continues to make progress.”
Soccer as a birthright
Even though Cone’s presidency has already been filled with success, she still has many more goals for the sport she hopes to accomplish, the most significant being increasing access to soccer.
“I want to change how people see our sport,” she said. “If we think about soccer and sports as a birthright, how do we change how we go about it?”
She has a simple yet powerful idea to accomplish this.
“Anyone who wants to play our game can walk, ride their bike, or take public transit to a safe place to play soccer.”
Cone looks to the 2026 men’s FIFA World Cup, which the United States is hosting alongside Canada and Mexico, as the perfect time to start working towards this.
She emphasizes, though, that soccer is much more than “11-a-side on a beautiful green grass field.”
“It can be two versus two in a backyard. It can be five versus five in a gym in futsal,” she highlights. “There are many different forms of soccer.”
Cone hopes to increase access to soccer and support all those who play it, regardless of what form the sport takes for them.
“I really want to increase access to soccer, but not just access. I want to increase equal opportunity to succeed in our sport as well.”
Food for Thought is a breakfast and conversation series held on Friday mornings at the Foundation. You can learn more about the initiative and RSVP for upcoming events on the Morehead-Cain Network.
More about the author
Laurelle Maubert ’25 of Frederick, Maryland, covers the alumni beat for the Morehead-Cain Scholar Media Team.
In addition to writing for the Scholar Media Team, the second-year scholar is an engagement manager for Consult Your Community, a UNC—Chapel Hill student organization that provides pro-bono consulting to local businesses and nonprofits.
She is also a 2023 Deloitte Leadership Allyship Mentorship Program (DLAMP) Scholar, an Operations Intern at purvelo cycle in Chapel Hill, and a member of the Phi Mu sorority.
At Carolina, Laurelle is pursuing a double major in business administration at the Kenan-Flagler Business School and French.
About the Morehead-Cain Scholar Media Team
The Morehead-Cain Scholar Media Team is an extracurricular program and internship run by the Foundation’s communications team. Scholars of all backgrounds and class years collaborate to produce multimedia content on the topics and issues they’re passionate about, as well as support Morehead-Cain’s institutional communications.
Members cover the following beats tied to Morehead-Cain’s departments: selections and recruitment, the scholar experience, development, and alumni engagement. Scholar-generated content is distributed across all of Morehead-Cain’s channels, including social media (Facebook, LinkedIn, Twitter, Instagram, and YouTube), the Catalyze podcast, email newsletters, and the website (moreheadcain.org). The team’s audience comprises more than 3,300 scholars and alumni.
Current members of the team for the spring 2023 include Gowri Abhinanda ’26, William Dahl ’25, Kayla Engler ’26, Elias Guedira ’26, Aayas Joshi ’26, Flavia Nunez Ludeiro ’26, Laurelle Maubert ’25, Cate Miller ’25, Ria Patel ’25, Sri Pothanker ’26, Stella Smolowitz ’26, and Tucker Stillman ’25. The team is led by Content Manager Sarah O’Carroll of the Morehead-Cain Foundation.
If you’re interested in learning more about the Scholar Media Team, contact the communications team. Participation is a semester-long commitment.