U.S. Soccer, the sport's governing body in the States, doesn't deserve the United States women's national soccer team.
The women's team has been fighting to be paid as much male players are since 2019, when they filed a gender discrimination lawsuit against U.S. Soccer. Their fight for equal pay was only amplified during 2019's FIFA Women's World Cup — which they won. However, on Tuesday it was revealed in court documents filed by U.S. Soccer that the organization did not believe that the female athletes had the same level of skill and responsibilities as their male counterparts — and thus didn't deserve to be paid equally.
Tuesday's filings show that U.S. Soccer is basically willing to toss their best asset to the sidelines. For fans like myself, it's a distraction and a disgrace, especially when the USWNT has the hardware to back up their worth. The women's team has four stars above its crest — one for every World Cup championship. The men's team has none. The women's team has Olympic gold. The men's team hasn't even qualified for the Olympics since the 2008 Beijing games.
“The job of a [men’s national team player] carries more responsibility within U.S. Soccer than the job of a [women’s national team] player,” U.S. Soccer argued in the court filing. They alluded to "indisputable science" to claim that playing on the men's team "requires a higher level of skill based on speed and strength" — and I call bullshit. To be a professional athlete of any kind requires tremendous skill, fitness, and mental and physical discipline. To be a successful professional athlete, which is to say the kind that rakes in wins at the highest level in the field, requires more, not less, skill.
According to BuzzFeed News, the case specifically mentioned women's team favorites Carli Lloyd and Alex Morgan. Just last month, the two appeared in court, where lawyers asked them about the specifics of playing as a woman.
"Do you think that the team could be competitive against the senior men’s national team?" a U.S. Soccer lawyer asked Lloyd.
"I'm not sure," Lloyd said. "Shall we fight it out to see who wins and then we get paid more?" Lloyd has scored 113 goals in 281 appearances for the USWNT. In comparison, Landon Donovan, the Men's retired all-time leading scorer, has 57 goals in 157 games. Points per game (PPG), a stat used in soccer to measure a striker's prowess on the pitch, puts Lloyd ahead of Donovan.
With 107 goals in 169 games, Morgan's PPG is even higher than Lloyd's. She fielded questions, as well.
"Do you think it requires more skill to play for the U.S. Men’s National Team than the U.S. women's national team?" a lawyer asked her.
"No," she said. "It's a different skill." And Morgan isn't wrong. Men's soccer will never look exactly like women's soccer, as both genders have to contend with different obstacles. But to say that one is more challenging than the other is a completely subjective (and sexist) way of looking at the sport. The men don't have higher skills — they have different bodies. Period.
At the end of the day, the objective of the sport is to score more goals than the other team. Whether the players on the field are men or women, the formations and strategies and rigor of the game are the same. The biggest difference between the women's and men's team is that the women's team wins.
"This ridiculous ‘argument’ belongs in the Paleolithic Era," a representative for USWNT told People of U.S. Soccer's statement. "It sounds as if it has been made by a caveman. Literally everyone in the world understands that an argument that male players ‘have more responsibility’ is just plain simple sexism and illustrates the very gender discrimination that caused us to file this lawsuit to begin with. So looking forward to trial on May 5.”
The sexism extends off the pitch, as men often have more brand sponsorships — I've seen boxes of cleats from Adidas and Puma fill the LA Galaxy locker room during my time as a reporter. Despite their fan base ("tens of thousands" of people showed up at their victory parade in New York in July) and name recognition (you know Rapinoe, but do you know men's national team forward Paul Arriola?), the USWNT, as a collective entity, had to push out their own campaign to show potential sponsors what it could look like after they lifted the trophy at the 2019 World Cup. If the entire team can't get sponsors to help, how is an individual player supposed to get the attention of Nike or New Balance? According to the New York Times, Secret, Nike, and Visa stepped up as sponsors. And while names like Morgan and Rapinoe can grab the attention of big companies, not every player can snag a high-profile partnership — and many, such as the USWNT's Rose Lavelle, are looking to other ways to earn money.
The New York Post reported that "each member of the USWNT earned $90,000" for reaching the 2019 FIFA Women's World Cup's quarterfinals. If the men had reached that milestone (the USMNT didn't qualify for the last World Cup), they would have each been entitled to $550,000. When that disparity was brought to the men's team's attention, the players were less supportive, declining to comment on the situation.
Servando Carrasco, Morgan's husband and a fellow soccer player — though not for the USMNT — hasn't commented on the legal struggles in which his wife is embroiled. But he has shouted out her skills on the field. “She worked incredibly hard to be where she is, so clearly I'm going to celebrate her," Carrasco told MLSSoccer.com when asked about his wife's efforts on and off the grass. "Yeah, she's a badass woman."
That badass woman is doing more for the game of soccer than almost anyone else, becoming an emblem for the sport alongside Rapinoe, and perhaps contributing to the rise of participation in soccer among girls. At a recent USWNT match against Mexico in Los Angeles, I saw the stands full of girls wearing Morgan's No. 13 jersey, even though she's not playing due to her pregnancy. More than 11,000 spectators attended the game. A week later, when the men's team played Costa Rica at the same stadium, 9,172 attended.
The trial will continue in May, and while the men's team isn't commenting on the situation, the union that represents them is backing the women.
"The women’s national team players deserve equal pay and are right to pursue a legal remedy from the courts or Congress. The Federation correctly points to the different payment systems with USWNT players on contracts, but we do not believe that justifies discrediting the work they do or the real value of their profound impact on the American sports landscape," reads a statement from the UNSTPA, the labor organization for the current and former members of the USMNT.
The USWNT has qualified for the 2020 Toyko Olympics. The men are still looking to get a spot. The USWNT is favored to win and knows it — just look at Morgan's US Beat Everybody fashion line, made in collaboration with teammates Kelley O'Hara and Allie Long. It's time U.S. Soccer sees what the rest of the world does: it is a different skill to play for the U.S. women's team, because they win. That deserves more than just equal pay. It deserves respect.
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