Sports News Without Fear, Favor or Compromise
Sports News Without Fear, Favor or Compromise

The USWNT’s fight for equal pay is still kind of nebulous

Telling it like it is,
Telling it like it is,
Image: Getty Images

Yesterday, Megan Rapinoe and Margaret Purce met with President Joe Biden and First Lady Jill Biden. Afterward, both Rapinoe and Purce met with the press. As always, Rapinoe was forthright, cutting, insightful, and funny. None of what comes next is to argue against Rapinoe being anything less than a national treasure. I say that as a proud owner of a No. 15 USA jersey.

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The debate between resources and pay, especially when it comes to the U.S. women’s national soccer team, probably needs to be separated. When Rapinoe references the NCAA tournament controversy, that’s resources. And no one, at least no one who can count to seven without passing out, thinks that women athletes should have less resources.

The debate about the popularity of women’s sports isn’t a fair one until we’re completely sure that women can put on the best product possible. Rapinoe referenced it herself:

“I think what’s often missed is the investment in resources, whether that’s on the business side, whether that’s in TV and marketing, branding, ticket sales, whatever it may be.” Rapinoe said. “The women’s national team, in so many ways, is a business. We have a product. We’re on the field playing, and we sell around the product. So the lack of investment — you saw it with the NCAA women’s March Madness tournament — with a lack of proper investment, we don’t really know the real potential of women’s sports.”

That comes from the best available training, coaching, medical care and equipment. That’s still a fight that needs fighting for sure in a lot of places, as the 12 dumbbells women’s college basketball players were afforded, before the uproar, attests to that. No one can say for sure that not enough people care about women’s sports until they’re allowed to show everything they can do.

But that is the aspect of the USWNT’s lawsuit against U.S. Soccer that’s already been settled. When the judge dismissed a portion of the lawsuit (more on this in a sec), both the players and U.S. Soccer agreed to the same accommodations, flights, and training that the men get. This is obvious, and a win. And should be the goal in professional, college, and high school leagues nation wide.

When it comes to pay, that’s harder to pin down. It makes for great soundbites, but the actual nuts and bolts between what the two national teams are paid muddy this. The women’s team, at least the top 25 players in the national team frame, get paid a yearly salary. And that’s if they’re injured or not called up for a game. The U.S. men are only paid for when they’re called up.

The bonus structures are higher for the men, and if they were to play as many friendlies as the women do, they would be paid more. This seems to be the debate.

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Where things get unclear is what exactly the women have been offered and what they haven’t. The judge, Judge Gary Klausner, who dismissed that portion of the USWNT’s lawsuit cited the fact that the women turned down the exact same structure as the men. But Rapinoe said they were never offered that. That is probably what the appeal the USWNT lodged will address. It is important to keep in mind they are not obligated to share with the public any specific dollar demands and doing so would probably just piss off US Soccer even more. It also makes it harder for the public to grasp the divide. Catch-22.

When it comes to bonuses for World Cup wins or even qualifiers, that’s not a U.S. Soccer issue. That’s a FIFA issue. While FIFA could almost certainly allocate more of what it makes from tournaments to the federations and players, it still won’t even out. As a non-profit, supposedly, in a vacuum FIFA should equal out the payments no matter the loss they’d take. But you shouldn’t sit on a hot stove waiting for that one. The World Cups aren’t worth equal values, which is what FIFA would tell you. FIFA could obviously take from the men’s World Cup pocket to balance out the prize money for the women’s, and maybe that’s what the USWNT is after. Except they’ve never said that.

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The USWNT’s deal with U.S. Soccer is also collectively bargained, and their contention has been it’s the best deal they could get without striking, but now it’s not good enough. Except no one told them they couldn’t strike to get an even better deal.

It’s understandable that the USWNT is in no hurry to give up the yearly salary they get from U.S. Soccer, because the money they make from their clubs isn’t much either. But again, that’s not a U.S. Soccer problem. The NWSL pays what it can, and the stars drawing salary from national team duties helps the league pay other players as well. We’re not in the world where NWSL can pay MLS salaries to its players. The money just isn’t there yet.

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The fight for resources should never stop. The platforms should be the same. With that, the women’s game can continue to grow and scratch out a bigger and bigger place on the world stage. We’re already seeing it, with the new TV deal for the WSL in England for instance. With that comes greater sponsorship money and hence greater prizes.

We can't be too careful. Two guys in an airport...talking? It's a little fishy.