Equal pay women's soccer
Julie Johnston playing for the US Women’s National Team in San Jose, Calif. May 10, 2015. Photo: Noah Salzman / CC BY-SA 4.0

Have you heard the one about the men’s soccer team filing suit for equal pay with women’s soccer?

“What they are demanding is the same pay that the United States Soccer Federation, the USSF, awards its female counterparts whose achievements haven’t even come close to those of the men’s team. And unlike other sports where the men are short-changed in favor of female athletes, there can be no excuses about lack of revenue. The World Cup men have produced almost $20 million more than the women and set television records that exceed women by as much as 9 million viewers.” (Newsday, April 4, 2016)

No brainer, right?

“Still, sports executives generally justify paying male athletes way less than their female counterparts because of the disparity in popularity between the women and men’s leagues. If the women are generating more ticket sales and TV viewers, executives posit, they deserve to be paid more for the revenue they’re bringing in.

Alas, that argument doesn’t seem to hold a lot of weight when it comes to U.S. men’s soccer. According to ESPN, the men’s team generated $20 million more in revenue than the U.S. women’s team last year, yet somehow made nearly four times less money. Looking at the projected profits for the upcoming year, the men are expected to net $5 million for U.S. Soccer, while the women are predicted to lose the organization about $1 million.” (Care2, April 3, 2016)

Are you slapping your forehead yet?

“Granted, there are fundamental differences in pay structure between the women’s and men’s teams. While the women do not receive a base salary, top players on the men’s team get a salary of around $72,000 a year in return for playing a minimum of 20 games a year. So some of their income is guaranteed. If they win those games they can, due to bonuses, earn nearly $100,000. The women are also required to play at least 20 games a year, but they can earn up to approximately $260,000 if they win all their games. But even if the women lose, they still get $5,000 for playing… while the men receive nothing.” (Inc. April 4, 2016)

“Men’s team members were winners on the field in 2015, but they dealt with a number of unfair concessions. Prior to the World Cup’s kickoff, FIFA snuffed out an 80-player sexual discrimination charge over forcing the men’s teams to play on turf. Beyond health concerns and the sanctity of the game, it is simply something the women would never even be asked to consider.” (The Cougar, April 5, 2016)

Time to come clean, readers. I tinkered a bit with the excerpts above. Every time the word “men” appeared, I substituted the word “women”‘ When the word “women” appeared, I inserted the word “men.” I did the same switch with the words “male” and “female.”

I could think of no better way to highlight the absurdity of this mess.

Equal pay women's soccerAnd at the heart of this imbroglio is this ugly underbelly: the United States Soccer Federation’s very legitimate concern that the members of the women’s team will strike before the summer Olympic games in Rio in July.

The story goes like this: The union representing the women players and the USSF are locked in a dispute about the current Collective Bargaining Agreement (CBA) between the two sides. The women claim it can be renegotiated at any time, like now, while the USSF is insistent that it stay in place until the time at which the Federation deems it is meant to expire, which is Dec. 31, 2016. The women base their claim on a memorandum between the parties that was signed in 2013 stating that the agreement could be terminated at any time.

In early January, the women presented the USSF with a proposal for a new CBA, which addressed the disparities between the treatment of the men’s and women’s teams. The Federation then responded by suing the women for breach of current contract.

If a judge decides that the agreement indeed does not expire until December of this year, then the women would be bound to play under the terms that they have determined to be discriminatory and, in the case of the field conditions, dangerous and distasteful.

Their backup plan, it seems, was the filing of discriminatory behavior on the part of the Federation with the Equal Employment Opportunity Association. If they can’t get the Federation to the negotiating table before the summer games, they’ll let the EEOC deal with them.

Opportunistic, you might say? Heavy-handed? Hell, yes! Of course it is.

The women players have been taken advantage of by the patronizing condescension of the Federation for years. It’s more than time for the feet of the USSF to be held to the fire. In their defense the Federation released a statement that drips with their lordliness.

“Our efforts to be advocates for women’s soccer are unwavering,” the statement said. “For 30 years, we have been a world leader in promoting the women’s game and are proud of the long-standing commitment we have made to building women’s soccer in the United States and furthering opportunities in soccer for young women and girls around the world.”

Equal pay women's soccerI suspect the women players are reading that as I am. “Be good little girls and be grateful for what we give you. Now, go outside and play.” Is it any wonder the women are playing hardball? How else might they go about getting what they are due?

There is a sad fact here. This condition has been allowed to exist for years, despite the fact that it was well known to the Federation and those who follow the game of soccer. It is only now, when the women have developed their bargaining clout through hard play, skill, and talent that their concerns are being acknowledged. And now dodged.

Where is the inherent fairness with which we all might hope to be treated and see others treated as well? In reality, fairness isn’t a high priority here. The almighty dollar is. The Federation treated the women players with discrimination because they could. No one with any power rose up to rein them in. A blind eye was turned.

Until now.

Well played, ladies. Well played.

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