The USWNT’s fight for equal pay takes center stage

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The United States Women’s National Team are your 2019 World Cup champions, just like they were in 2015. This time around, though, there is a discussion going on outside of just how awesome this roster and its players are (incredibly awesome, for the record): it’s beyond time for the women of America’s national team to be paid on par with the men of America’s national team.

It’s not just fans or media who think so, or anything like that: the team itself believes as much, and in fact sued the U.S. Soccer Federation for gender discrimination back in March of this year:

“Despite the fact that these female and male players are called upon to perform the same job responsibilities on their teams and participate in international competitions for their single common employer, the USSF, the female players have been consistently paid less money than their male counterparts,” the lawsuit said. “This is true even though their performance has been superior to that of the male players — with the female players, in contrast to male players, becoming world champions.”

Among complaints about wages, the lawsuit also notes issues with where and how often the women’s team played, medical treatment and coaching. The class-action request would allow any players for the team since February 2015 to join the case.

Here’s an example of the kind of pay discrepancy referred to in the lawsuit: USWNT players were guaranteed $3,000 for each qualifying game they won, a bonus of $37,500 for actually qualifying for the World Cup, another $37,500 for being on the actual World Cup roster that played in France this summer, and then, finally, $110,000 for winning the whole thing. That’s about $200,000 for the players who are there from qualifying through the conclusion of the tournament. For the United States Men’s National Team, that final figure for 2018’s World Cup was $1.1 million. FIFA makes $400 million in total prize pay available for the men’s teams, and just $30 million for the women’s teams.

Before anyone tries to pull out the “women’s sports just don’t generate the same revenue as men’s sports!” argument that was tired and completely missing the point even before the first time it was finished being said out loud, the USWNT actually does earn more for the USSF than the USMNT does, and has for three years now:

This soccer pay gap exists despite the profitability of the USWNT. According to The Wall Street Journal, U.S. women’s soccer games have generated more revenue for the U.S. Soccer Federation (USSF) than U.S. men’s games over the past three years, and according to Nike, the 2019 women’s stadium home jersey is the top-selling soccer jersey, men’s or women’s, ever sold on in one season.

Word from The Wall Street Journal is that the USWNT’s players and the USSF will be discussing all of this following the World Cup, which seems even more likely now that they team has won their second such tournament in a row. If that mediation doesn’t go well, the USWNT players have tools at their disposal. All 23 of the USWNT’s players are from the National Women’s Soccer League, which is under a management contract with the USSF. The NWSL’s players recently unionized, with recognition coming in November of last year. The NWSL is one of the engines that drives the USWNT, and if they were to act in solidarity with the best of the bunch by going on strike or refusing to report for games until there was resolution, it could go a long way toward speeding things up for the national team.

Of course, there is a real chance of any strike or action like that being deemed illegal since they’re related given the people involved in both the labor and management sides are the same, but maybe not related enough for the National Labor Relations Board, since the NWSL also has team owners who are part of the league process but not the USWNT side of things. With that being said, the USWNT is still fully capable of refusing to take the pitch themselves, in future qualifiers, in the celebratory four-game tour that follows the World Cup victory, wherever they’re expected to be. And their fellow NWSL players can show solidarity by not jumping to take one of the spots that the USSF could claim was now open due to these actions, which would leave the U.S. Soccer Federation in a tough spot where their revenue-generating team is correct, possesses the leverage, and, oh, isn’t generating revenue for them anymore until they get what’s theirs.

There’s reason for the NWSL players to show this solidarity, should it come to this sort of action, outside of it just being the right thing to do. The World Cup is a chance for these women to make some real money playing soccer, which is not a thing playing in the NWSL, as of now, allows them otherwise. The minimum salary for the 2019 season is $16,538, which is a jump from the previous campaign. The maximum salary — and yes, there’s a maximum salary — is $46,200. There are men’s minor-league soccer players in the USL Championship (Major League Soccer’s minor-league) making more than that — good for them, get that bread, paper, etc., and all that. But the NWSL has some negotiating to do for a reason, and their situation certainly behooves them to stand with those at the top of their sport as they seek fairness on its grandest stage.

It should be noted, too, that even if the USWNT were as sad for fans to watch as the USMNT (which lost its in-primetime, on-the-same-day Gold Cup final against Mexico on Sunday hours after the women defeated the Netherlands), that they should be paid equally. This is of note and in the news in many ways because the USWNT is exceptional and front-and-center throughout the entire World Cup: if they were failing to make it very far in the tournament, however, they should still have the opportunity to be paid equally with the men who themselves failed to qualify for the 2018 World Cup. The jersey sales wouldn’t be the same, sure, but the men get paid despite being outclassed in that arena, too, don’t they?

Luckily for fans, and luckily for future USWNT teams, too, this collection of women is not sad to watch. They’re the best in the world, they’re empowering, they aren’t afraid of admitting sports are political, and they’re fighting for equal wages. They have the leverage on their side, they have the public on their side, and their success now is going to benefit future players down the line who maybe won’t have the same run of World Cup victories, but still deserve to be paid fairly for attempting to.

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