Imagine that you have consistently been the top producer in your company.
Imagine you have done this despite the fact you are forced to work under sub-par conditions and don’t receive the publicity and perks you deserve. Imagine that one of your co-workers, someone who had under-performed you for the entire history of the company, makes more than double the amount you do plus gets a fancy company car.
The members of the U.S. Women’s soccer team don’t have to imagine this because it is the sad reality of being an elite female athlete in a world that just assumes that the natural order of things means men’s sports are more important than women’s.
Friday, in what could very well end up being a historic bid to change this perception, the U.S. women’s national soccer team filed a gender discrimination suit against U.S. Soccer, accusing the national federation of paying lower salaries to women and subjecting them to play in lesser, and possibly more dangerous, conditions than their male counterparts.
The suit, which was filed on International Women’s Day, comes just three months before the team goes to France to defend it’s World Cup title. It also comes at a time when the public at large is starting to pay more attention to the pay gap between men and women across society.
Just this past week, a federal judge ordered the Trump administration to reinstate rules requiring large employers to submit data to the U.S. government about what they pay their workers, broken down by gender and race. According to the Pew Research Center, women over the age of 16 made 82 cents for every dollar made by a man in 2017.
With the #metoo movement now taking on the subject of pay equity, the environment has changed substantially since 2016 when six members of the U.S. team filed a complaint with the Equal Opportunity Commission, charging the soccer federation with wage discrimination.
The lawsuit filed Friday also reflects the resolve of the team to get their complaints heard as it was signed by all 28 members and comes at time when the team has maximum leverage heading into the World Cup.
According to the suit, a comparison of pay schedules for the teams shows that if each played 20 exhibition games in a year, members of the men’s team could earn an average of $263,320 each, while women’s team players could earn a maximum of $99,000.
“We feel a responsibility not only to stand up for what we know we deserve as athletes, but also for what we know is right — on behalf of our teammates, future teammates, fellow women athletes, and women all around the world,” team captain Megan Rapinoe said in a news release on Friday.
The U.S. women’s team has consistently outperformed the men’s on the field. The women’s team has won the World Cup three times — in 1991, 1999 and 2015. And it has never finished lower than third place. The U.S. men’s team has never played in a World Cup Final and hasn’t made it to the semifinals since 1930. It did not qualify for the 2018 World Cup in Russia.
The low pay for women’s professional athletes has often been justified by their not bringing in the same revenue as the men. You can bet that the women’s soccer team will bring in more revenue than the men in this World Cup year for women.
What’s more, observers are more and more beginning to understand the chicken-and-egg aspect of the revenue argument. Given the historic inequities of women’s and men’s sports and the lack of marketing and exposure accorded to the women’s game, women athletes are beginning to question why are only getting paid a fraction of their male counterparts.
Weeks before the 2017 world championships, the U.S. women’s hockey team threatened to strike over gender disparities and reached an agreement with the federation that improved their lot. Women tennis players are currently pushing for more tournaments beyond the Grand Slams that agree to equal prize payouts. Currently, WNBA players are negotiating a new collective bargaining agreement with the league and you can bet the large pay disparity between women players and their NBA counterparts is going to be a topic of discussion.
In our country, sports have played a big role in social change. Jackie Robinson broke the color line in baseball in 1947, some 17 years before the 1964 Civil Rights act banned discrimination on the basis of color. Sometime, you have to just do the right thing.
The right thing is to stop sending a message to our daughters — both in sports and in the workforce — that their work is not as important as that of our sons.
This is bigger than soccer.