The Kansas City Current’s new stadium shows just how far women’s sports have come

The Kansas City Current’s new stadium shows just how far women’s sports have come

I play

KANSAS CITY, Mo. – The bar has been forever raised.

With the opening of CPKC Stadium on Saturday, a women’s professional team finally has a stadium built just for them. Not one already occupied by a men’s team, or one to be shared with a university or as part of a community complex. One designed to their specifications, including a dressing room that is theirs and theirs alone. One that has everything a stadium for a men’s team would have, including over 10,000 seats, luxury boxes and high-end concession stands.

One that lets the world know the women’s game and the athletes who play it are not going anywhere and should be treated like the professional athletes that they are.

“You can’t help but see what we’ve done. And once you see it, it changes other people’s vision and other people’s expectations of what’s right,” Kansas City Current co-owner Angie Long told USA TODAY Sports on Friday, a day before CPKC Stadium opens on the waterfront in the city.

“Now, not many people ask us why these women need their own stadium,” Long added. “Because they see it and understand it.”

There have been professional women’s leagues in the United States for almost 30 years now. But for too much of that time, general acceptance of the WNBA and NWSL, like their predecessors, has been grudging. In the best case.

They were made to play on high school fields and in facilities that lacked basic amenities. Like changing rooms. They were driven into the hinterland, far from the cities they supposedly represented. Their own owners treated them as charity projects rather than a worthwhile investment.

Even the two stadiums previously built for women’s teams as primary tenants were, at least initially, small and/or not what a top-level professional men’s team would accommodate.

The message was clear: we let you play, girl. Be grateful for what you have.

“We never felt like we had a home,” said Michelle Akers, who was part of the first U.S. women’s national team in 1985 and won World Cups in 1991 and 1999, during celebrations before match on Saturday.

Fortunately, that is changing. Interest in women’s sports is growing rapidly and female athletes have become more determined in their refusal to accept inequality. There is also an influx of owners in both the NWSL and WNBA who recognize that supporting women’s sports is not just a noble cause. Serious money can be made, but it means treating women like the professionals they are.

“When we announced we were going to build the stadium, a reporter asked me, ‘Why can’t you just play at Children’s Mercy Park?'” Long said, referring to the home of Sporting KC, the Major League Soccer team. “And my response was, ‘Why shouldn’t any professional team deserve to have its own stadium, its own home, its own place to play?’

Looking at CPKC Stadium and seeing the reaction of the players to it, the answer seems so obvious. And so ridiculous that it took until now to happen.

When Current saw her locker room at the new stadium for the first time, Michelle Cooper was so excited she jumped across the floor. Lo LaBonta, who has spent half of his 10-year career in Kansas City, joked, “Getting a locker? Shall I take a shower? Is this madness?’

The signs, the colors, the goods that are sold – it’s all about Current. Nothing is borrowed or passed on. They are not guests in someone’s home or part-time tenants, they need to make sure they take everything with them and leave no trace of themselves after the games.

This is their home, their permanent home. Everything in it is for them and belongs to them.

OPINION: Men’s professional teams have received subsidies for years. It’s time for women to get them too.

“It’s a game changer,” NWSL Commissioner Jessica Berman said. “I think it’s going to have an even bigger impact than anyone can imagine.”

As Long said, once you see CPKC Stadium, you can’t unsee it. Nor can you ignore the question of why a women’s team is less deserving of its own space than a men’s team.

One of the Current players to score in the 5-4 win against the Portland Thorns was 16-year-old Alex Pfeiffer. Unlike the veterans, who are not far removed from the days of substandard facilities, Pfeiffer will play throughout her career, always having at least one stadium built specifically for a women’s team.

It might not sound like much. For women’s sports, however, this is a monumental change.

“This is something that will change the world of women’s football,” said current coach Vlatko Andonovski. “This is the beginning of change.”

One that is long overdue.

Follow USA TODAY sports columnist Nancy Armor on social media @nrarmour.

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