The Washington PostDemocracy Dies in Darkness

U.S. women’s soccer players deserve equal pay, and it shouldn’t take a lawsuit

The U.S. national team celebrates its victory over Japan in the FIFA  Women's World Cup in 2015.
The U.S. national team celebrates its victory over Japan in the FIFA Women's World Cup in 2015. (Elaine Thompson/Associated Press)

This shouldn’t take long to explain, just as it shouldn’t be taking this long — never mind a lawsuit — for the women of the United States national soccer team to receive pay commensurate with that of their male counterparts. Never mind that the women win World Cups while the men, most recently, don’t even reach them.

This shouldn’t be a comparison. It just shouldn’t. The women of the U.S. national soccer team play their sport at the highest level available. The men aspire to do the same. Their pay should be the same, without a suit. Period.

Stop with the mansplaining of how the men’s World Cup brings in truckloads more money than the women’s does. Can we concentrate on what’s right here, and think forwards, not in reverse?

Let’s acknowledge something first: There is a pay gap, based in gender, not just in soccer and not just in sports. It’s true across this country, from accountants to zoologists. According to the Pew Research Center, women over the age of 16 made 82 cents for every dollar made by a man in 2017. To earn what their male colleagues made annually, women would have to work 47 more days. Hard to say whether that’s more embarrassing or ludicrous.

U.S. Soccer, though, shouldn’t be waiting for society to change, and shouldn’t even acknowledge that intrinsic disparity at all. It should be helping change society, from sports on out. Stop thinking about equal compensation as the result of a systemic changes, and start thinking of it as the reason change happens.

Women’s national soccer team players allege gender discrimination

What we’re telling our daughters now — in soccer, yes, but in the workforce as well — is that their work isn’t valued as that of their boy classmates. It’s an insane thing to type, but it’s true. We teach them, of course, that money isn’t everything. But we can’t hide from the fact that money, too, sends a message.

If you’ve read this far, your daughter probably knows Alex Morgan and Megan Rapinoe and Carli Lloyd better than Christian Pulisic and … wait, who else is on the men’s team? (Sorry. Getting caught up in notoriety and actual success again.) So what are we to tell those daughters, these girls, about this story?

“Yes, honey, the players on the women’s team work as hard as those on the men’s. Oh, yeah, you’re right, they totally win more games. But their efforts and results just aren’t worth as much. Sorry, kid.”

What U.S. Soccer is telling everyone — not just its current players, but those in the future, not to mention its staff and the public in general — is that it values the men’s contributions more. So change that. Instead of saying, “Here’s the revenue each group brings in separately,” it could think of the operation — and the sport — more holistically. This is what’s good for American soccer — writ large — going forward. Not here’s how we value men’s and women’s soccer. Here’s how we value our sport — period.

And if you, as an organization, say internally and outwardly that something matters more, doesn’t that affect everyone with whom you interact? It’s not just your fans and prospective players. It’s sponsors, too, who therefore come to the table with predisposed ideas of what’s worth more — men over women. It’s an ingrained way of thinking that impacts all levels of the outfit.

Archives: U.S. women’s hockey team fights the good fight, and wins

Of course, U.S. Soccer could change its outdated thought process immediately, and it should, without this silly lawsuit.

This whole episode brings to mind the fight of the U.S. women’s ice hockey team two winters ago. That squad — like the soccer team, the best in the world in a given year — threatened to strike on the eve of the world championships. What they found was strength. What they found was a voice. What they got was not just more money — from no pay in non-Olympic years to $70,000 for some players — but immeasurable self-respect and self-worth.

The night of the agreement, I talked to several team members, including veteran player Monique Lamoureux (now Lamoureux-Morando), by phone.

“Today’s a huge day not just for women’s hockey, but a historic day for women’s sports,” she said. “We’re all extremely proud to be a part of it. Hopefully, other sports can kind of follow suit.”

What the soccer experience is showing us is that, unfortunately, other organizations didn’t look at what happened in hockey and say, “You know what? Let’s kind of follow suit.” Turns out that’s far too altruistic for the people who govern sports. Turns out it takes action from the aggrieved to right the wrongs. So here come the women of the U.S. national soccer team, months before the World Cup in France, daring their bosses to see them in court.

And to think, American women have it so much better than so many women across the globe. This isn’t a scientific evaluation, but check out how many Olympic medals, across both Summer and Winter Games, have been taken by Americans, according to Olympic historian Bill Mallon: 775, including 309 gold. The next best all-time, China, can’t reach half those numbers (350 medals, 131 gold).

American girls grow up believing they can compete at the highest levels because so many of their forebears did just that. But they need to be able to grow up believing that the ancillary benefits that come from their pursuit — including financial — aren’t baked-in as less than their brother’s. U.S. Soccer could make this suit obsolete by engaging the players now. And then we wouldn’t have to fumble for answers to the inevitable and embarrassing questions from our daughters about why these two soccer players — one male, one female — aren’t worth the same money.