When taking on the best soccer team in U.S. history in the battle for equal pay for equal work, “men are inherently physically superior to women” is probably not the tack one wants to take. At the very least, it has the potential to be a PR nightmare, in addition to violating the spirit of the notion of equality between men and women.
But that was exactly the road U.S. Soccer went down in its response to the U.S. Women’s National Soccer Team (USWNT) lawsuit that claimed U.S. Soccer violated Title VII of the Civil Rights Act of 1964 and the Equal Pay Act. In its filing, U.S. Soccer alleged it was fair to pay the USWNT, which has won four World Cups, less than the Men’s team, which has never won anything of note, because the women didn’t have the same “ability” as the men. U.S. Soccer went on to define “ability” as being “materially influenced by the level of certain physical attributes, such as speed and strength.”
The condemnation was swift and total from the USWNT players, every major media outlet, and nearly every woman with a social media account, not to mention several high level sponsors of the USWNT. Even members of the USMNT, notably DeMarcus Beasley and Dax McCarty, expressed their disgust at U.S. Soccer’s position. The blowback eventually led to the resignation of U.S. Soccer President Carlos Cordeiro and the election of Cindy Parlow-Cone, a former member of the USWNT, and the first female president of U.S. Soccer in the organization’s 107-year history.
U.S. Soccer’s ill-fated decision to attack the physical qualifications of all women in comparison to men has now claimed another victim, chief legal officer for U.S. Soccer Lydia Wahlke, as first reported by former Sports Illustrated soccer writer Grant Wahl on Twitter this morning:
Wahl also added, “A source with knowledge of the review said it concluded that Wahlke deserved at least some blame for what happened.”
While U.S. Soccer isn’t releasing the details of what the investigation found, the timing of Wahlke’s resignation at least suggests that she may have played a major role in developing or approving the legal argument that the USWNT players are inherently inferior to their USMNT counterparts. U.S. Soccer’s statement on how it will proceed with legal briefs going forward hints at a claim that President Carlos Cordeiro and/or other senior members of the organization were not aware of the stance U.S. Soccer was about to take, a claim many in the soccer community will find difficult to believe.
It remains disappointing to think that what amounted to a sexist argument may have been approved, and possibly conceived, by a woman. And while lawyers take positions they don’t necessarily agree with in furtherance of their client’s interest all the time, it’s especially galling that a woman oversaw a declaration so intrinsically misogynist, especially one that seemingly erased the accomplishments of a group of women who mean so much to America in general, and girls and women in particular.
It may be that any number of male lawyers would have advised U.S. Soccer to take the same position in rejecting the USWNT’s claims for equal pay, but the desire to have women in traditionally male positions is premised on the presumption that they will figure out a different way to do things, one that doesn’t subject women and girls to the same stereotypes as men have for hundreds of years.
At any rate, Wahlke will remain on as a consultant through mid-September, which means she could be involved in the USWNT’s appeal of a district court judge’s dismissal of their Title VII and Equal Pay Act claims, though how much input she’ll have is questionable. While the USWNT is appealing the district court’s ruling, they have asked for a postponement of the trial on the remainder of their claims, which is currently scheduled for June 16.