A federal judge has overruled the National Women's Soccer League, at least temporarily, finding its rule barring players under 18 is a form of gender discrimination. Olivia Moultrie—a 15-year-old who debuted with the Portland Thorns' under-19 team at age 14 and signed a nine-year endorsement deal with Nike at 13, per Yahoo—sued the league earlier this month, arguing the age restriction "will continually slow her development, delay her improvement, and more generally impede her career as a soccer player," per CNN. Judge Karin Immergut responded Monday by issuing a 14-day temporary restraining order requiring the NWSL to lift its age restriction, which could allow Olivia to sign with a team. Immergut found no comparable age limit in European women's leagues or in the US men's professional league, where several teams include players under 18.
"In other words, the only thing currently standing between Plaintiff and her aspiration to be a professional soccer player in this country is her gender," Immergut wrote. She pointed out that the NWSL "offered no legitimate procompetitive justification for treating young women who want an opportunity to play professional soccer differently than young men … nor have they shown that eliminating the Age Rule will cause any nonspeculative injury to the NWSL," per ESPN. It remains to be seen whether the order will be extended. The court is also weighing a preliminary injunction. In a statement, the NWSL says it believes ongoing collective bargaining negotiations, which cover employment terms including the age restriction, are "the appropriate place for a decision on this topic," per the Oregonian. The league adds it is "evaluating our options with respect to the district court's order." (Read more US women's soccer stories.)