world cup team celebrating

Five soccer stars charge US Soccer with gender pay discrimination

Yesterday, five stars of the United States women’s national soccer team — Carli Lloyd, Becky Sauerbrunn, Alex Morgan, Megan Rapinoe, and Hope Solo — filed a federal complaint on behalf of the entire team charging that they’re paid nearly four times less than their male counterparts and calling for the Equal Employment Opportunity Commission investigate US Soccer for wage discrimination

There’s a gender pay gap in nearly all pro sports, of course. The usual justification for the fact that male athletes are so often paid many, many times more than their female counterparts for doing the same job is that men’s sports are generally more popular — and more profitable. Men bring in more revenue and therefore — no matter how well or poorly they perform — it’s more valuable when they play the game. Of course, that’s a simplistic way of looking at the economics of sports. As Katie wrote last year, the WNBA, for example, “has a great product but not the visibility to match it.” That visibility is dependent on the support of their league, corporate sponsors, and, perhaps most importantly, the sports media, which doesn’t just passively reflect audience interest but actively helps to generate it or — as is more often the case — sends the message that women’s sports just “aren’t worth watching.”

But these excuses don’t hold much water when it comes to US soccer. The women’s team is unquestionably, objectively better than the men’s team. And in a country that — despite the sport’s ever-growing popularity — still doesn’t exactly have a strong soccer culture, the women have, as the NYT puts it, been “the sport’s standard bearers.” While the women have scored three World Cup victories and four Olympic gold medals, “the men’s most notable achievement in the past half-century was a quarterfinal appearance at the 2002 World Cup.” As Hope Solo bluntly said, “The U.S.M.N.T. get paid more to just show up than we get paid to win major championships.”

I mean, not to rag too hard on the men’s squad — what they lack in victories they partly make up for in pretty faces, IMO; Landon Donovan was my first pre-teen lust– but as this Tweeter jokes:

And people like to watch them win too. Last year’s women’s World Cup final was seen by 25.4 million viewers — a record-breaking number on a English-language television network in the US for either men’s or women’s soccer.

This popularity has translated into the bottom line. “The women have without dispute vastly outperformed the men not just on the playing field but economically for the U.S.S.F.” the team’s lawyer, Jeffrey Kessler, explained. According to the lawsuit, the women’s team generated nearly $20 million more revenue last year than the men’s team. Despite this, they’re paid almost four times less. “These athletes have probably the strongest case for pay discrimination against women that I have ever seen,” Kessler argued. “This isn’t a case where someone can come in and say the reason the men are paid more is because they are more economically successful or the men outperform the women or they’re not comparable in the same way.”

Everyone who has loved rooting for these athletes on the field for decades should support them in this important battle off the field.

Header image credit: Getty/Cosmopolitan

St. Paul, MN

Maya Dusenbery is an Executive Director in charge of Editorial at Feministing. She is the author of the forthcoming book Doing Harm: The Truth About How Bad Medicine and Lazy Science Leave Women Dismissed, Misdiagnosed, and Sick (HarperOne, March 2018). She has been a fellow at Mother Jones magazine and a columnist at Pacific Standard. Before become a full-time writer, she worked at the National Institute for Reproductive Health. A Minnesota native, she received her B.A. from Carleton College in 2008.

Maya Dusenbery is an Executive Director of Feministing in charge of Editorial.

Read more about Maya

Join the Conversation