Equal pay for equal play: US soccer deserves red card for treatment of female athletes

When I was in 9th grade I wrote a letter to my high school newspaper complaining about the general sense of disregard for the female athletes in comparison to their male peers.

Well, consider this Part Two.

Last week, members of the U.S. Women’s National Soccer team—current Olympic and World Cup champions— sued U.S. Soccer, the national organization that oversees both the men’s and women’s national teams, for wage discrimination.

I’m going to throw some numbers out at you… and let you tell me if you see a problem there.

Both the men and women’s national teams play 20 exhibition games per year, but U.S. Soccer does not pay men and women in the same manner. Women make a base salary of $72,000 per year with a per-win bonus of $1,350, while men make $5,000 per game and then an additional $8,166 per win on average (but a win against a top opponent could warrant up to a $17,625 bonus), based on figures supplied in the federal complaint submitted to the Equal Employment Opportunity Commission.

That is to say if the teams lose every exhibition game each female player will make $72,000 to a man’s $100,000. If it’s a stellar year and the teams win every match the women’s team will collect $99,000 per player and each male player will pocket $263,320.

That means a woman will make less winning every game than a man will make winning none.

That’s a hell of a consolation prize for just showing up.

Luckily, and for some odd reason, the men and women do make an equal amount in Olympic competition.

In contrast, in the most recent Women’s World Cup, the women’s team was awarded $2,000,000 for winning the whole thing. The U.S. men were given $9,000,000 for contributing a rather disappointing round of 16 exit from the sport’s biggest stage.

Each individual female player on that championship team earned a $75,000 bonus for bringing home the Cup. Had the men’s team been victorious, each player would have taken home the hefty sum of $390,625 for the win.

I will be honest with you— there are a bunch of potential explanations for this gap—general success of the team, viewership and profitability—that U.S. Soccer could use to justify the disparity. Yet none of them hold up to explain why American male soccer players are given such an inflated sum.

The women’s team have been in the medals every single year since the institution of the Women’s World Cup in 1991. The men’s team? One third place finish in 1930 is all they have to their World Cup name.

With 23 million people tuning in, the Women’s 2015 World Cup final between the U.S. and Japan was the most watched soccer game in U.S. history, men’s or women’s.

According to U.S. Soccer’s own budget projections, the Women’s National Team is slated to bring in $8,000,000 more in 2017 than the men’s team.

Money talks, but apparently not loud enough for U.S. Soccer.

On a more subjective level, the general popularity of the USWNT is really rather remarkable. I could name more players from the women’s national team than the men’s (the same cannot be said for hockey, basketball or baseball/softball, however) despite my general aversion to the game. Consider me a huge follower of sports, but just not that sport. The women’s team made me care about soccer and actually sit down to watch a game. Full disclosure: I was one of the 23 million. This shows you the power of this team to make one of America’s less popular sports (relative to Big Four here, folks) actually relevant.

The consequences of this suit could be pretty severe. The USWNT is considering boycotting the Rio Olympics in July if equal pay for equal play does not strike U.S. Soccer’s fancy.

The course of action for U.S. Soccer is rather straightforward. Pay your female players what they morally and economically deserve—and, hey, maybe don’t pay the men more just to show up.

Leave a Reply

*