Since March of last year, The United States Soccer Federation and members of the U.S. Women’s National Team have been locked in a gender discrimination lawsuit, in which the women’s team allege they have been inadequately paid. Last night, while most of the northeast slept, The U.S. Soccer Federation, which still serves as the governing body of the men’s and women’s national teams, filed a motion for a summary judgment and dismissal of the case, arguing that its pay practices don’t violate the Equal Pay Act and have not, in the past, violated Title VII.
Their justification is simple: the work that the players do is not equal. “Plaintiffs and the MNT players do not perform equal work requiring equal skill, effort, and responsibility under similar working conditions,” the motion reads, therefore “any pay differential is based on factors other than sex.”
Point by point, the USSF is telling on themselves. It is true that the Federation paid more money to the women’s team during the 2019 season than the men’s team, but that is largely due to bonus money the women earned by winning the World Cup. They also went on to play games as part of their victory tour, which generated even more profit for the federation. The men’s team has not won a FIFA World Cup since *checks watch* never. The closest they came was third place in 1930. And even the men’s team rejects this false narrative of separate pay, asserting that the women’s salaries should be raised and more closely reflect the pay on the men’s team in a statement released by the players’ association earlier this month.
The Federation also argues that the women’s team engages in different work because it doesn’t play in the same establishments as the men’s teams. This is very true. The men’s team, while playing for the MLS, work in establishments like Yankee Stadium and Red Bull Arena, training in Qatar or Florida. Women’s teams in the NWSL play on college pitches, with just a few teams getting the privilege of a stadium. The first time the women’s national team got to do a training camp in Europe was 2019. For this year’s training camp they were back in Florida. In the case of Carli Lloyd’s home team, SkyBlue FC, recently improved team training facilities when they negotiated a move to a men’s facility.
The idea that the work of men’s and women’s teams doesn’t require the same amount of skill or effort is a concept that requires me to laugh to keep from crying. A report from the New York Times documented that between 2012 and 2016 the women played (and won) more games than the men. A soccer pitch is 120 yards no matter who runs across it. For men and women, a soccer game lasts 90 minutes unless stoppage time is added. Fouls are generally the same with the only exception being that men flop more often than women stalling the game and exaggerating non-existent injuries. It’s evident that women’s teams have been playing better more interesting soccer in the last few years than men have played in the last decade in the U.S.
Despite the millions in profit, global recognition, and increased viewership brought in by the women’s team, the Federation still sees them as secondary to the men’s team. They still trot out the tired argument that viewers simply aren’t interested in women’s soccer. Last year the women’s team game attendance was 8% better than men’s team attendance. The LA Times reported that 14 million viewers tuned in to see the final women’s world cup game last year. The interest is there, yet the investment has not followed. In global competition, the women’s team is going up against European teams that have better national investment and stronger infrastructure and they are still able to pull off a win. The work is, in fact, unequal, but it’s only because the Federation and other governing bodies like FIFA have designed it so that women constantly play at a financial handicap in comparison to men. They are a superior team making inferior money.
If it can be proven that the Federation willfully violated the Equal Pay Act and Title VII, it will be up to a jury to determine the amount in damages and back pay players from past and present US teams are owed. (The Federation is potentially looking at a loss of $66 million on back pay alone.) The women’s and men’s team combined generated between $78 million and $104 million in revenue for the Federation in 2017, the last time the women negotiated their CBA. The four highest-paid women’s team players attached to the suit made a little over $1 million each between 2014 and 2019, a period where they earned two World Cup titles. Had they been men, they would have earned “$2.5 million more over the same period.” I say this about a lot of things but it’s true: the math doesn’t math.