It's Possible that the U.S. Soccer Federation Promoted a Man So No One Would Notice How Much Less They Paid a Woman With the Same Job

Illustration for article titled It's Possible that the U.S. Soccer Federation Promoted a Man So No One Would Notice How Much Less They Paid a Woman With the Same Job
Image: Emilee Chinn (Getty Images)

Amid years of lawsuits around the pay gap and other gender discrepancies in U.S. Soccer, it should have been good news that in 2019 the U.S. Soccer Federation had hired a former player and woman as its general manager of women’s programming. But due to the fact that the barrier-breaking reportedly pushed a male general manager into an even higher, better-paid position so that no one would know the Federation was shafting said woman out of $200k a year, the barrier was basically patched right back up while everyone patted themselves on the back.

According to the Guardian, multiple sources say the hiring of Kate Markgraf as general manager of women’s programming meant a $500,000 salary for Markgraf, while her male counterpart, Earnie Stewart, made $700,000 a year for a job that actually entailed less work.

“That large pay gap could perhaps be explained by Stewart’s long resume of technical experience compared to Markgraf, who would be new to a GM role. But the men’s GM role was also much smaller in scope and, when Stewart was first hired, he was only expected to oversee the men’s senior national team. Markgraf, meanwhile, was tasked with not just the women’s senior team but all youth programming on the girls’ side as well.”

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So instead of coughing up some cash to pay Markgraf equally, the U.S. Soccer Federation allegedly did what any truly messed up system would do: promoted the man and paid him more so headlines wouldn’t say how big the pay gap was. Stewart’s new gig as the first-ever sporting director came one pretty unremarkable year after he’d gotten a general manager job and bumped his pay up to $800,000 a year, while the male manager hired to replace him will be paid less than $400,000 a year. Awesome to be Earnie right now!

However, there is an argument to be made that this isn’t mustache-twirling sexism at play, but that the disparity is merely a reality of the world in which we live and play soccer:

“It cost more money to lure Stewart away from his sporting director job at the Philadelphia Union after similar stints for Dutch clubs than it cost to hire Markgraf, who had worked outside of soccer in academia.”

Yet it does seem like it would have been cheaper, and better for the headlines, if the soccer suits had just made a weensy little concession to misandry by paying the lady the same as the dude for doing more work.

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“It cost more money to lure Stewart away from his sporting director job at the Philadelphia Union after similar stints for Dutch clubs than it cost to hire Markgraf, who had worked outside of soccer in academia.”

Context time!

> his sporting director job at the Philadelphia Union

From 2015 to 2018, when Stewart was sporting director, the Union never finished better than 6th in their conference, never finished in the top 10 overall in MLS, never advanced past the first round of the MLS playoffs, and were at best runners-up in the Open Cup (twice). The Union’s average attendance fell every season during that span, from 17,519 in 2015 to 16,518 in 2018.

The season after he left, the Union finished 3rd in their conference, 5th overall, and reached the MLS Quaterfinals for the second time in its history. Attendance rebounded to 17,111. The team’s leading goalscorer in 2019 was Kacper Przybylko, a player signed by Stewart’s replacement two months after Stewart left.

The Union then finished 1st overall in the abbreviated 2020 season, winning the team’s first MLS trophy in the Supporters’ Shield, and reached the semifinals of the separate MLS is Back tournament. The team’s leading goal scorer was Sergio Santos, who was also signed months after Stewart’s exit.

(The manager throughout was Jim Curtin, who Stewart inherited and who remained at the club after Stewart’s exit.)

Meanwhile, Stewart’s first decision as USMNT GM in 2018 was the hiring of Gregg Berhalter — more experienced, qualified, and successful than Stewart in a sporting director position at Columbus — as USMNT head coach.

If seeing Gregg Berhalter’s name associated with an article about pay disparities between men and women in US Soccer seems like deja vu, it’s because Berhalter made $304,113 in his first 4 months coaching 4 friendly matches (2 losses) as coach of the USMNT, compared to $390,409 that USWNT coach Jill Ellis made in 12 months coaching 21 matches, a span that for Ellis included a perfect sweep of five Concacaf World Cup qualification matches (five wins, 26-0 goals scored/allowed) and only one loss (1-3 to France in a friendly).

> after similar stints for Dutch clubs

While Stewart was leaving NAC Breda, the club became embroiled in a financial shortfall due in part to the team spending too much on players. In less than a year the club revealed a debt of €7.1 million that hamstrung the club’s spending; NAC was then relegated in 2014.

At Stewart’s next job with AZ, the club fell from the Eredivisie’s top 4 to 10th place. In the last two seasons of his run at AZ, he went through four managers, including three in a span of about two weeks (one quitting over stress, the next lost through botched contract negotiations). Stewart’s replacement signed Vincent Janssen, who returned the club to top-4 finishes and won the league’s golden boot in his first season with AZ, then was sold at a significant net gain to Tottenham. Their COVID-abbreviated 2019 performance earned them their first Champions League appearance since before Stewart’s run, and was fueled by a raft of player sales and acquisitions that occurred in the wake of Stewart’s exit.

> than it cost to hire Markgraf, who had worked outside of soccer in academia

Markgraf, who had nearly 100 more national team caps than Stewart as a player and won two Olympic gold medals and a World Cup championship, worked for US Soccer international outreach programs from 2012-2014, and was a color commentator for two World Cups, the 2012 London Olympics, and the 2016 Euros, as well as an analyst through the 2019 World Cup (ESPN rearranged some of their programming because she was an ESPN FC contributor at the time of her hiring as USSF women’s GM). She had also worked as a volunteer assistant coach for several D1 college programs, including roles at Notre Dame, Harvard, and Marquette over a 12-year span when she was still playing for the USWNT and professionally.