ARI SHAPIRO, HOST:
Sometimes a parade is not just a parade even when it's a glamorous ticker-tape parade winding through New York City.
SHAPIRO: Fans turned out by the thousands to cheer on the triumphant athletes of the U.S. women's national soccer team following their fourth World Cup win. As NPR's Neda Ulaby reports, this parade was a party with a mission and a message.
NEDA ULABY, BYLINE: As flurries of confetti fluttered over Broadway, Cecilia Dafoe (ph) angled herself into the perfect spot to catch a glimpse of the women's team as they rode by. During the World Cup, Dafoe said she was glued to the television.
CECILIA DAFOE: Oh, just the tenacity and just the vigor and the endurance, you know, starting from the first game till the last.
ULABY: Squeezed next to her in the crowd was 13-year-old Kelsey Rose and her dad. They'd ridden a bus for two hours from Pennsylvania to get here.
KELSEY ROSE: I love soccer, and I love that women do it also because God created us all equal.
ULABY: A point essentially made by Megan Rapinoe right after the parade. The star co-captain described what a champion team looks like to the crowds at City Hall.
MEGAN RAPINOE: We have pink hair and purple hair, straight girls and gay girls.
ULABY: At City Hall, the mayor of New York, Bill de Blasio, presented the players with keys to the city in an enthusiastic ceremony that included his wife, Chirlane.
CHIRLANE MCCRAY: This is how we welcome our heroes back home.
ULABY: De Blasio lauded the team's accomplishments - the first to ever win 12 consecutive World Cup matches. Nine different players scored goals - a record.
MCCRAY: And they show us that playing like a girl is to be unbeatable.
ULABY: Then she started a chant you could hear at the parade all morning.
MCCRAY: (Chanting) USA...
UNIDENTIFIED CROWD: (Chanting) Equal pay, equal pay, equal pay.
ULABY: Equal pay - the U.S. Women's National Team filed a lawsuit in March against the U.S. Soccer Federation because they're paid far less than the men's team in spite of being vastly more accomplished and popular. It could not have been easy for U.S. Soccer Federation President Carlos Cordeiro to take the stage. He addressed the champions directly.
CARLOS CORDEIRO: In recent months, you've raised your voices for equality.
ULABY: The crowd broke into cheers supporting the team. Cordeiro continued. On behalf of everyone in U.S. soccer, he said...
CORDEIRO: We hear you. We believe in you. And we're committed to doing right by you.
ULABY: In her speech a few minutes later, Megan Rapinoe affectionately teased Cordeiro.
RAPINOE: We look forward to holding those feet to the fire.
ULABY: Rapinoe made a point of thanking Cordeiro for his support, and like her other teammates and coach, she barely touched on the controversy of her pay. She alluded only fleetingly to her ongoing political arguments with President Trump and the question of the team visiting the White House. Instead, her tone was conciliatory.
RAPINOE: We have to be better. We have to love more, hate less. We got to listen more and talk less. We got to know that this is everybody's responsibility - every single person here.
ULABY: And there were a lot of people listening. As many as 19 million people watched the final game on Sunday. Rapinoe's message for the extraordinarily diverse crowd in New York with simple. Treat everyone around you as if you're all playing for the same team. Neda Ulaby, NPR News, New York. Transcript provided by NPR, Copyright NPR.