“I know that the pay discrepancy [in soccer] is ludicrous. It’s a battle. It’s a fight. You know, we have had some incredible pioneers in our sport that stood up in the ’70s and said, ‘We’re going to get paid what the men get paid.’ They stood up way back then. I think, at some point, in every sport, you have to have those pioneers, and maybe it’s the time for soccer. I’m playing because someone else stood up, and so what they are doing right now is hopefully for the future of women’s soccer.”—Serena Williams
On International Women’s Day, an earthquake was felt throughout the world of international soccer. Just three months before the Women’s World Cup in France, 28 players on the dominant US women’s national team filed a federal class-action lawsuit in the United States District Court in Los Angeles against the United States Soccer Federation. They are suing the USSF for “institutionalized gender discrimination,” claiming that the USSF is in violation of the 1964 Civil Rights Act.
They are fighting for pay equity with their male counterparts. While the timing of International Women’s Day and the lead-up to the World Cup certainly adds a certain cinematic drama, the lawsuit is a follow-up to a March 2016 charge levied by star players Carli Lloyd, Alex Morgan, Megan Rapinoe, Becky Sauerbrunn, and Hope Solo with the Equal Employment Opportunity Commission (EEOC). Those EEOC charges have dictated the timing of the coming suit.
Lloyd, Morgan, Rapinoe, and Sauerbrunn received right-to-sue letters from the EEOC just last month, a necessary step under federal law to take Friday’s action.
As CBS reported, the legal brief says that “if both the men’s and the women’s teams were to win 20 non-tournament matches, the men would earn on average $263,320—a little more than $13,000 per game, while the average women’s team player would earn a maximum of $99,000, which equals a little less than $5,000 per game.”
These players are more than a murderers’ row of a squad, ranked the number-one team in the world in 10 of the past 11 years. This is a political and politicized group of players. Days before the lawsuit, they took to the pitch with the names of women of inspiration on their back, including Audre Lorde, Sojourner Truth, and Malala Yousafzai. Megan Rapinoe honored Audre Lorde, the legendary writer and self-described “black, lesbian, mother, warrior, poet.” Folks may also remember Rapinoe from when she took a knee in solidarity with Colin Kaepernick during the anthem in 2016.
Rapinoe spoke to CBS This Morning from France, where she and teammate Alex Morgan unveiled their World Cup kits.
“U.S. soccer is in a very unique position to take an incredibly bold stance,” Rapinoe said. “I think we’ve learned a lot through this process. We’ve really come together as a group, and been able to solidify our unity and our strength, and really begun to understand the power of everyone being on the same page.”
The USSF argues that the men bring in more revenue, but that is hard to fathom, given that the men did not even make last year’s World Cup, while the women played in a final against Japan—where they won 5-2—in 2015 that garnered higher ratings than the World Series and the NBA Finals.
As Defender Becky Sauerbrunn commented, “The bottom line is simple: it is wrong for us to be paid and valued less for our work because of our gender. Every member of this team works incredibly hard to achieve the success that we have had for the USSF. We are standing up now so that our efforts, and those of future USWNT players, will be fairly recognized.”
Since the lawsuit was filed, the president of the US Soccer Federation, Carlos Cordeiro said he was “surprised” by the lawsuit and has met with the team’s veteran players in an attempt to come to some kind of settlement. “I want to assure everyone in our soccer family that U.S. Soccer and its Women’s National Team players remain partners with shared goals and aspirations,” he wrote in an open letter. “For that reason, we are very optimistic as to what is possible, and our commitment to reaching a common ground is absolute. At the same time, we have every confidence that our USWNT players will be relentless in their pursuit of winning the Women’s World Cup this summer in France.”
Common ground may be reached, but the players’ goal is higher ground: higher ground achieved through struggle. The US women are going after something much greater than another World Cup triumph. They are going for a legacy that will elevate women’s soccer players, women athletes, and women for generations to come.