Photo credit: Sports Illustrated
Yesterday, the US Soccer Federation filed a motion in the U.S. Central District of California opposing the summary judgment motion filed by the 28 US Women Soccer players who are suing under the Equal Pay Act. Some of the arguments advanced by counsel for US Soccer make the plaintiffs’ case for them. For example, one argument is titled: “WNT and MNT Players Do Not Perform Equal Work Requiring Equal Skill, Effort and Responsibility Under Similar Working Conditions”. US Soccer elaborates by describing the supposedly different “materially higher level of speed and strength required to perform the job of an MNT player”. The same argument point includes the inflammatory language that “it is not a sexist stereotype to recognize the different levels of speed and strength required” for an MNT player as compared to a WNT player. Why this should justify a pay gap of $3.65 MILLION in 2015, when the US Women won the World Cup and the men’s team just made the Round of 16 remains unclear. Further on, counsel argues that “science” establishes that the physical differences between men and women demonstrates that the two jobs – MNT and WNT soccer player – require “materially different levels of strength and speed”.
It could be argued that indeed, the men’s and women’s teams do NOT perform equal work. In fact, the women’s team historically has been far more successful than the men’s team, winning FOUR World Cups and FOUR Olympic gold medals, while the men’s team’s greatest achievement was making the quarterfinals in the 2002 World Cup. In terms of popularity and growth of the game, the women’s team has blown away the men’s team. Quick, name me a starter on the US Men’s Soccer team. ??? By contrast, in one interesting poll, it was Megan Rapinhoe for President! Sports Illustrated named her the 2019 Sportsperson of the Year. Further, the US Women’s Team garnered 14.3 million US views for its World Cup Final last summer, dwarfing the Men’s World Cup Final of 11.3 million American views.
Finally, and perhaps most significantly, the US Women’s Team is better for the bottom line. Between 2016 and 2018, the WNT’s successes resulted in $50.8 million revenue, whereas the MNT created only $49.9 million. In fact, the WNT’s on-field exploits were responsible for putting the US Soccer finances in the black, while the MNT ran a deficit of $3.5 million. This, despite the fact that US Soccer spent approximately double the amount of money to develop the men’s team as compared to the women’s. Hmm. Just who is the bread-winner here?
One final, though significant note: US Soccer attempted to distinguish the “working conditions” of the two teams on the basis of the fact that the men’s team encounters some “fan hostility” at certain road games. Does that really eclipse the condemnation the women’s team received for celebrating their first round 13-0 blowout of Thailand as being “unsportsmanlike”? Would the men’s team have experienced similar criticism, or was this really a reaction to “unladylike” behavior? Similarly, Alex Morgan was the focus of criticism when she pretended to drink a cup of tea after a game-clinching goal against England in the World Cup. Yet, there are entire articles devoted to views of over-the-top celebrations of men’s soccer goals. Double standard, anyone?
The arguments advanced in US Soccer’s filing in this case demonstrate its complete and utter inability to even comprehend the extent of the discrimination it continues to perpetuate. One almost expects them to insist that the women wear kilts instead of shorts. Bottom line: this lawsuit is not just about damages, which are richly deserved. The entire culture of US Soccer needs a drastic overhaul to ensure that yet another generation of women is not subjected to such archaic, demeaning and damaging treatment by the very organization that should be supporting, championing and fighting FOR them.
Helen A. “Nellie” Drew is an expert in sports law, including professional and amateur sports issues ranging from NCAA compliance and Title IX matters to facility construction, discipline of professional athletes, collective bargaining and franchise issues. Drew formerly served as an officer and in-house counsel to the Buffalo Sabres of the National Hockey League, after previously working as outside counsel to the Sabres and the NHL. Among her more interesting experiences were assisting former USSR superstar Alexander Mogilny in obtaining asylum status in the U.S. and working on multiple NHL expansions, including San Jose, Ottawa, Florida and Tampa Bay.
Drew teaches a variety of courses that incorporate topics such as drug testing in professional sports and professional player contract negotiation and arbitration. She is especially interested in the evolving research and litigation concerning concussions in both amateur and professional sports.