The United States Women’s National Team’s ongoing fight for pay equity in soccer took a bizarre turn this week when the U.S Soccer Federation went mask-off in a batch of filings. In court documents, the Federation argued that the job of a player on the men’s national team “requires a higher level of skill, based on speed and strength than does the job of a [women’s national team] player.” The filings go on to state that the “responsibilities” of playing for the men’s national team are greater than that of the women because “players have responsibility for competing in multiple soccer tournaments with the potential for generating a total of more than $40 million in prize money for U.S. Soccer,” while the women compete in fewer tournaments. Important to note here that the women don’t compete in as many tournaments because the USSF and FIFA don’t provide them. While the men do in fact stand to earn more money for winning a World Cup, they’ve not met those potential earnings since their inception.
The filing also argued men and women’s teams operate under different “working conditions,” and that the men labor in more difficult conditions because of “opposing fan hostility”—conditions that are specifically egregious when playing against Mexican or Central American teams, and are “unmatched by anything the [women’s national team] must face” while competing. (Remember that one time that the USWNT was bullied globally for their goal celebrations, even by an announcer calling the game? No? Just me?)
Almost immediately, the USSF understood that they’d fucked up. By almost immediately I mean that after a pre-match protest by the USWNT—and condemnations from Coca-Cola, Visa, and Budweiser (all team sponsors)—the USSF decided to execute the worst possible apology at the worst possible time. On March 11th, as the USWNT competed in the final match of the SheBelieves Cup against Japan, the apology was read on air by Sebastian Salazar who was calling the game with Julie Foudy. The apology, released by Carlos Cordeiro, former USSF president, blamed the USSF’s lawyers for the sexist nature of the filing, “I have made it clear to our legal team that even as we debate facts and figures in the course of this case, we must do so with the utmost respect not only for our Women’s National Team players but for all female athletes around the world.”
After reading the entire statement, Salazar asked Foudy for her thoughts. She sighed. It was loud enough and long enough to release the breath of every single woman who has ever played soccer under the USSF and has never received an apology for years of being undermined by their own federation. The USWNT went on to win that game 3-1. Before the team got their medals and ANOTHER trophy, Foudy asked Megan Rapinoe her thoughts on the filing. Rapinoe, who skilfully scored a goal on a penalty kick said the team was “very upset” and referred to USSF’s legal argument as “blatant misogyny and sexism.”
Carlos Cordeiro resigned from his position with the USSF the following day with another apology for not fully reviewing the filings before they were sent. “Had I done so I would have objected to the language that did not reflect my personal admiration for our women’s players or our values as an organization,” he wrote in a statement on Twitter. This apology and newfound admiration come a full year after the original filing date for the case and after thousands of pages of USSF lawyers arguing the inferiority of women players compared to men. As a result of the USSF’s unfiltered show of sexism, fan clubs for women’s soccer teams and the USWNT Player’s Association have blacked out the USSF crest, leaving only the four stars signifying the four World Cup wins for USWNT —four wins that seem to not be enough evidence of the skill and value of the women’s team.