ON WEDNESDAY, the highly decorated U.S. women’s national soccer team began its most recent quest for Olympic gold, but that’s not the only contest its members face. The players recently launched a public campaign for equal pay, using their widely followed social media platforms to advertise gender inequities the U.S. Soccer Federation chooses to ignore.
In March, five reigning Olympic and World Cup champions — Becky Sauerbrunn, Carli Lloyd, Hope Solo, Alex Morgan and Megan Rapinoe — filed a wage discrimination complaint on behalf of the team to the Equal Employment Opportunity Commission. The team is also demanding that the federation grant it wages equivalent to those of the men’s national team in their next collective bargaining agreement. The players expect a decision from the EEOC by December.
Since November, the players have been in contract negotiations with the federation. Each U.S. women’s national team member earns $8,216 less than her male counterpart for winning an exhibition game. In May, the women received a high-profile endorsement from the Senate, which passed a unanimous, nonbinding resolution calling for an immediate end to “gender pay inequity” and demanding that U.S. Soccer “treat all athletes with the respect and dignity those athletes deserve.” Nevertheless, no tangible progress has been made.
By taking their fight public, the women should generate more interest — especially if the team adds another gold medal to its collection in Rio de Janeiro. But that may not be enough to tip the scales. Although the federation says it strongly supports women’s soccer, its president, Sunil Gulati, has yet to appear at a bargaining session. Perhaps the U.S. men’s team members could put some pressure on the federation by endorsing equal pay for their fellow American footballers.
Unequal pay for female athletes is often attributed to lower revenue production. That’s the case in professional soccer, where National Women’s Soccer League salaries are embarrassingly low because the league lacks the ticket sales Major League Soccer enjoys. However, the narrative changes with America’s international soccer teams. Not only is the U.S. women’s team the most dominant team in the history of its sport, but it also brought in more revenue than the men’s team did last year, earning $23 million to the men’s $21 million. In the next fiscal year, the women are projected to generate $8.5 million more than the men. Though the federation argues that the U.S. men’s national team made more than the women did in past years, thus meriting the men’s higher per-match compensation, the federation did not reverse the practice when the women’s earnings surpassed those of the men.
Further, unlike with the professional leagues, the national teams share a single employer — U.S. Soccer. According to Jeffrey Kessler, the players’ attorney: “One employer may not discriminate between its male and female employees under the law. Legally, they are required to provide equal pay for equal work.”
The U.S. Soccer Federation’s failure to close the wage gap — a familiar reality for women of all vocations — is discouraging not only for fans of women’s soccer but also for anyone who values equality of the sexes.