U.S. Women’s Soccer Deserves Proper Pay

Image: “eighty-one cents on the dollar” by John Lodder, licensed under CC 2.0, Creative Commons.

The United States Women’s National Soccer Team (“USWNT” or “WNT”) has achieved levels of success far beyond the Men’s team.  In 2019 the WNT won their fourth title and cemented their place as champions of soccer for another four years. With the skill, quality, efficiency, and tenacity that the WNT plays at, winning in 2023 and earning a three-peat of FIFA World Cup victories is not out of the question.  Though their potential to win three FIFA World Cups in a row is in question, what is not in question is that the women should get paid equal to the men.

Players on the WNT filed suit prior to the start of the 2019 FIFA Women’s World Cup in March of 2019. Throughout the beginning of their lawsuit, which alleges the United States Soccer Federation (“USSF”) violates, inter alia the Equal Pay Act and Title VII of the Civil Rights Act of 1964, the WNT went on to win a World Cup.  Following their World Cup win in France, the WNT had entered arbitration talks with the United States Soccer Federation (“USSF”).  It appears, however, that these talks have not led to anything meaningful as a trial was set for May 5, 2020.  The trial, however, has been postponed as a result of the COVID-19 pandemic.

USSF does not believe that there is an issue with the current pay structure for the WNT.  The USSF has argued that the women are compensated in other forms, such as having maternity and child-care benefits, and that they earned more than the men in their previous outings.  Moreover, the USSF has argued previously in other cases that the WNT and Men’s National Team perform separate duties and are subject to separate collective bargaining agreements, and to re-write the WNT agreement now would be contrary to law.  Embarrassingly, USSF argued at one point that the men had more strength, speed, and are larger than the women and this should bolster the idea they are so distinct that a direct comparison cannot be made.  This argument has officially been rescinded in court by the USSF, and even led to U.S. Soccer switching law firms because of backlash from the argument.

Winners Deserve Their Pay

The USWNT is dominant on the field.  Their record in the FIFA World Cup and in international play is beyond impressive, let alone the star power provided by members of the WNT such as Carli Llyod, Megan Rapinoe, and Julie Ertz.  However, for playing the same game, at the same level, and being more successful than their opposite-sex counterparts, they are paid far less than the men.  Baffling indeed.  When the Chicago Bulls were at their peak, Scottie Pippen had a contract for a total of $18 million dollars.  He was only the sixth highest paid Chicago Bull in the 1997-98 season and did not earn anything close to what Michael Jordan earned that season.  Yet, people called out for Scottie to earn more, often speaking of how he was underpaid for the amount of success he brought to the Chicago Bulls and their six championships in the 1990s.

The USWNT are in a similar situation to that of Scottie Pippen.  They are far underpaid for the amount they do for soccer in the U.S.  Moreover, the USWNT is not some form of “one-hit” wonder.  They have a staggering four World Cup championships, all within recent history nonetheless.  The women are able to prove time and time again that they have more than earned the monetary benefits of their success.  USSF, however, does cite some issues with the team’s request of $67 million.  Their issues come primarily in the form of FIFA’s payouts, citing that some of the missed earnings done in the calculation to get to $67 million, are a result of FIFA not paying out enough money.  For example, the French National Team won the 2018 FIFA Men’s World Cup and the club got a total of $38 million.  The WNT, for winning in 2019, got a total of $4 million as a team. USSF has a strong argument here, and has promised to advocate for FIFA to provide bigger payouts, as it should.  The FIFA payouts are not in USSF’s control.  Arguing they should not be liable for that portion of missed earnings is a legitimate one.

However, FIFA’s payout issue does not excuse USSF from not paying the WNT a proper amount compared with the men.  USSF arguments that there are portions of the collective bargaining agreement, such as childcare, that could justify a lower pay are frivolous.  First, while the United States does not specifically have any laws requiring childcare or maternity benefits be provided, an argument this could cost someone millions of dollars is absurd.  To punish someone for starting a family is not an archaic concept in the United States as of the writing of this piece, but the author hopes that it will be soon.  This is a basic human right and should not have people sacrificing income to choose whether or not to start a family.  Second, USSF’s continual attempt to distinguish the two sexes as separate entities lacks solid ground.  The only difference is that one is played by women and the other, men. It would be the same thing as if an office were to split employees on to separate floors by their sex. An accountant who is a woman working on one floor of the firm would be doing the same or similar work as an accountant who is on another floor of the firm, but a man.  According to USSF, however, this makes them different and worthy of entirely different salaries. 

Hopefully USSF will come to its senses and realize that the women deserve the same pay as the men. Slight differences in a bargaining agreement should not justify as large of a pay gap as currently exists.  The women of the team deserve the same pay, not only because of their success but because they are people. People who do the same work and should get the same pay; it’s that simple.

Scott Hammersley, Staff Editor

Image: “eighty-one cents on the dollar” by John Lodder, licensed under CC 2.0, Creative Commons.

References

Andrew Das, U.S. Women’s Soccer Team Sets Price for Ending Lawsuit: $67 Million, The New York Times (Feb. 21, 2020) https://www.nytimes.com/2020/02/21/sports/soccer/uswnt-equal-pay-lawsuit.html.

Andrew Das, U.S. Women’s Soccer Team Sues U.S. Soccer for Gender Discrimination, The New York Times (Mar. 8, 2019) https://www.nytimes.com/2019/03/08/sports/womens-soccer-team-lawsuit-gender-discrimination.html.

Andrew Das and Kevin Draper, U.S. Women’s Team and U.S. Soccer Agree to Mediation Over Gender Discrimination Claim, The New York Times (Jun. 21, 2019) https://www.nytimes.com/2019/06/21/sports/soccer/us-womens-team-discrimination-.html?searchResultPosition=5.

Benyam Kidane, The Last Dance: Scottie Pippen – The most underpaid superstar in the NBA, NBA, (Apr. 18, 2020) https://in.nba.com/news/the-last-dance-scottie-pippen-the-most-underpaid-superstar-in-the-nba-chicago-bulls/1pgk8tepz4ess1w0aczqwaqnlm.

Meredith Cash, US Soccer officially concedes its argument that women’s national team is inferior in skill to the men’s team in its equal pay lawsuit filings, Insider, (Mar. 31, 2020) https://www.insider.com/uswnt-lawsuit-us-soccer-drops-less-skill-claim-against-women-2020-3.

Meredith Cash, US Soccer says unequal pay for women is fair because ‘men are bigger, stronger, faster,’ as USWNT sues for $67 million, Business Insider, (Feb. 21, 2020) https://www.businessinsider.com/uswnt-lawsuit-players-suing-equal-pay-2020-2.

Rachel Bachman, Coronavirus Pandemic Delays U.S. Women’s Soccer Trial, The Wall Street Journal, (Apr. 9, 2020) https://www.wsj.com/articles/coronavirus-pandemic-delays-u-s-womens-soccer-trial-11586433663?mod=searchresults&page=1&pos=7.

Steven Goff, U.S. women’s national team wins again as its fight for equal pay rages on, The Washington Post, (Mar. 8, 2020) https://www.washingtonpost.com/sports/2020/03/08/us-womens-national-team-wins-again-its-fight-equal-pay-rages/.


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