The U.S. Women’s National Team (USWNT) has been fighting for years to secure equal compensation to the men’s team, but the blatant misogyny they have faced during their ongoing legal battle with U.S. Soccer reveals that there is still a lot of work to be done.
There’s no question that the USWNT is making great strides in elevating women’s sports and pushing the pay conversation forward. Through an active social media presence, outspoken interviews, influential statements on the field and even an empowering children’s book series by star player Alex Morgan, the team is bringing women’s athletics into a spotlight they have never seen before.
Despite the USWNT's progress, the sports industry is still an antiquated, male-dominated world that is very resistant to change. Because of this, the USWNT’s fight is far more complicated than their slogan of “Equal Play, Equal Pay”.
To achieve pay equality there needs to be a significant cultural shift away from the traditional, misogynistic ideas about who can be a successful, top-earning athlete. This change has already begun, but it has to happen at every level of the sports industry — it has to come from executives, sponsors, coaches, players and fans of both men’s and women’s sports.
Most of the people and organizations that make the decisions about player compensation still adhere to these old-fashioned mindsets, so there is still a long road ahead for the USWNT.
National outcry arose two weeks ago after U.S. Soccer President Carlos Cordeiro released a letter supporting claims made by U.S. Soccer’s legal defense that it requires a higher level of skill to play on the men’s team than the women’s team. This claim and others were published in response to a lawsuit the USWNT filed against the U.S. Soccer Federation for gender discrimination in 2019.
Because of the public’s backlash (and more importantly to U.S. Soccer, criticism from their huge sponsors like Coca-Cola), Cordeiro resigned as president less than a week after the letter was released.
The assertion of a difference in skill between the teams, while clearly sexist, is also simply not true. The women have won four World Cups and four Olympic gold medals, dominated their opponents for almost three straight decades and created a global social movement along the way.
Still, somehow, U.S. Soccer argued that it requires more skill to play on the team that has no World Cup or Olympic wins and gets the benefits of better playing conditions and nicer travel accommodations.
The comment about skill level is part of a long line of arguments that U.S. Soccer has made against equal pay over the last several years, all with the intention of preventing the USWNT from earning what they deserve. The common thread between these arguments is that they aren’t rooted in facts, but seem to be taken straight from the comments of sexist social media trolls.
A few years ago U.S. Soccer tried to push the idea that some ambiguous “market realities” made it so that the woman should not be paid as much as the men. It’s unclear which reality U.S. Soccer lives in, because the USWNT brings in more revenue than the men’s team.
Another argument made by U.S. Soccer’s legal defense was that the men’s team has encountered more hostility from opposing fans, which they claimed the USWNT has not experienced. Clearly U.S. Soccer does not read the onslaught of derogatory comments the players receive daily on social media, because this team knows more about encountering hostility for playing a sport than anyone.
These misogynistic attitudes are still pervasive in the sports world, and don’t seem to be leaving anytime soon. They need to be broken down over time with the help of the USWNT, other women’s sports teams, athletes and increased fan engagement.
Cindy Parlow Cone, the former U.S. Soccer vice president who has since taken over as president, looks to be a bright spot for the future of the organization. Cone has shown a genuine desire to do right by the USWNT and women’s soccer fans, and hopefully will be able to make significant progress in regards to this issue.
I believe that with the right leadership, we will see equal pay in soccer fairly soon. The USWNT has a large enough fanbase and support system that eventually, U.S. Soccer will have to concede.
Still, the fight for equal pay across all sports is far from over. For other sports in the U.S., the conversation has barely begun; in basketball, for example, the revenue differential is so huge between the National Basketball Association (NBA) and the Women’s National Basketball Association (WNBA) that it will be a much longer and more difficult battle.
The road to equal pay in sports is a long and winding one, but the USWNT has shown that it is absolutely worth fighting for. The players have brought a conversation that didn’t exist even 10 years ago to the national spotlight, and show no signs of ever giving up.
This is the opinion of Ellie Kinney, a sophomore communication studies major from Boston, Massachusetts. Tweet comments @emkinney4 or email comments to email@example.com.