USWNT Players File EECO Complaint

The United States Women’s National Team filed a wage discrimination complaint.

This morning it was announced that five players from the US Women’s National Team (aka the team that won the World Cup last year) have filed a complaint with the United States Equal Employment Opportunity Commission (EEOC) against the United States Soccer Federation for wage discrimination. I, for one, was very excited when I heard about this announcement. I have had numerous conversations about the pay disparity in women’s soccer and it’s one of very few subjects that make me get so worked up that it’s hard for me to speak.

Most of the time when I have these talks it’s about the salaries in the NWSL vs. the salaries in the MLS, which, in all honesty, is like comparing apples and oranges. They’re separate organizations, after all. Do I think it’s fair that women who have put the same time and effort into achieving a professional level of skill get paid so much less than men? No. But they’re separate organizations.

The MLS was founded in 1993 and has had over 20 years to cultivate relationships with sponsors and grow a stable fan base. The NWSL is getting ready to begin its fourth season and while it is growing rapidly, it still has not reached the same level as the MLS. And more importantly, the revenue isn’t there to support higher salaries. I hope as the NWSL continues to thrive, the fan bases for the teams will grow and in turn the revenue for the organization will grow through increased merchandise and ticket sales. When the NWSL has grown to a size that rivals the MLS, I would hope that both male and female players will be paid the same amounts.

The USWNT is a different story. There’s already a stable fan base for the team. They’re popular. When big names from the World Cup came through Kansas City last season in matchups against FC Kansas City people flocked to the games for a chance to see them in action. They set soccer television viewing records in the US during last year’s World Cup. They won the World Cup and they’re the frontrunners to win the Gold medal in the Olympics this year (while there will again be no men’s team from the US, I know it’s U-23 for men but still). The Olympics are exciting for American soccer fans. A successful Olympic run brings more light to the sport that is still a big underdog in this country in terms of viewership.

Even if the US Soccer Federation wants to argue that the Men’s National Team brings in more revenue, can they really say that a mostly unsuccessful men’s team brings in 4-5x more revenue than a very successful women’s team? I think that’s bogus.

Let’s take a moment to reminisce back to the late 1990s when I was growing up in Kansas City. I went to a lot of Royals baseball games. Let’s face it, they weren’t all that hot of a team in the late 90s (remember that long gap in between winning a World Series and making it back to the playoffs?). Kauffman Stadium didn’t really have much of a crowd, ticket prices weren’t that high, there wasn’t much of a demand for a mostly unsuccessful team. Fast forward to now, the Royals are hot. Tickets aren’t cheap and also aren’t easy to come by because everyone in Kansas City wants to be a part of the new season for the reigning World Series champs.

A similar thing is going on with the USWNT right now. They’re on fire. Lots of people want to see them play and continue to succeed.

I wanted to get opinions on the matter from other writers from Reporting KC. Here’s what they had to say on the issue:

Tyler Unsell: “Right now USWNT is doing more for US soccer and more for gender equity than almost anything else. It’s time they get paid for it.”

Thomas I Benton: “I think the disparity between the way men and women soccer players are compensated and treated in the international game is shocking and unfair. I don’t know enough about the EEOC process to render any sort of take on how likely the complaint is to succeed, but I think both US Soccer and FIFA need to do a better job.” (More about his thoughts can be found here).

RJ Clark: “Not that I’m super educated on this topic, so don’t bite my head off if this comment seems dumb. But isn’t that a valid argument to look at the revenue that is generated and compare how they get paid. What about how the women’s side seems to play in all of these little random tournaments (She Believes Cup, The Victory Tour, etc.) US Soccer then pumps money into their game by paying for hotels, food, travel, and other various expenses. Also isn’t US Soccer still paying the salaries of the USWNT players in NWSL? I just don’t know how reasonable it is to expect US Soccer to compensate the women’s players equally when they just don’t bring in the dollars that the men’s team does.”

Eric Atcheson: “The WNT didn’t just win another World Cup, they did so in the unprecedented circumstance of having to play all of their games on artificial turf. They’ve had to refuse to play because of unsafe pitch conditions. And the thankfully now ex-president of FIFA, Sepp Blatter, infamously said that to make women’s soccer more appealing, they should play in shorter shorts (heck, one of the women’s replica uniforms on sale has a plunging neckline, you think Clint Dempsey would be caught dead modeling that?). This is a fight for respect from the most successful national soccer team this country has ever created, and they deserve to not just be compensated more fairly, but to be treated more fairly. Period.”

Araceli Villanueva: “I’ll be the first to say I know absolutely nothing about how salaries work at the National level. I’ve overheard from friends through the years, the salaries issue was one of the main reasons why they never went pro.”

Chad Smith: “I have to agree that the women are justified. I heard that they bring in over $8 million more dollars per year than the men. If that’s not enough to justify that they should be paid the same (or more) I don’t know what is.”

I feel like this is a pretty good spread of opinions on the matter. It’s a complicated, confusing issue. It’s not an issue that’s going to work itself easily. Do I think the USWNT should be paid at least a comparable amount to their male counterparts? A resounding yes. Should they be paid an equal amount per diem for meals as the men’s team? Yes. Sports Illustrated reported that the women get $50 per diem for a domestic venue and $60 for an international venue and the men get paid $62.50 per diem for a domestic venue and $70 for an international venue. If that were to happen in a traditional workplace that would definitely be an illegal discrimination between genders.

I don’t have all the answers. I can only attest to my personal thoughts and beliefs on the matter at hand. Will this be an easy road for these women to face? No. But I’m glad they’re fighting for what they believe is right. I’m glad for the future of women’s sports. I’m glad for the young girls who are looking up to these ladies and wanting to follow in their footsteps that they have role models who don’t just sit by and do nothing when they believe they are being treated unfairly.

I want to say thank you to Alex, Becky, Carli, Hope and Megan for not being afraid to stand up for yourselves. I wish you all the best of luck in your mission.