From Brandi Chastain’s shirt-waving celebration 17 years ago to the ride down the Canyon of Heroes after winning the World Cup last summer, the U.S. women’s soccer team has given us plenty of seminal moments. All, however, pale in comparison with what the team did this past week.
By filing a complaint with the Equal Employment Opportunity Commission charging the U.S. Soccer Federation with wage discrimination, five well-known members of the U.S. soccer team have taken a big step in pushing forward the national conversation about gender pay equity in sports and the world beyond.
“Whether or not they win or lose, just by filing the case they have prevailed because of the social effect of their public action,” said Dave Hollander, a clinical assistant professor at NYU’s Tisch Institute for Sports Management, Media and Business. “This is a front-page story, the lead story on the ‘Today’ show. It’s not a sports story entirely.”
In the complaint filed Wednesday, Carli Lloyd, Hope Solo, Alex Morgan, Megan Rapinoe and Becky Sauerbrunn contend that that despite generating nearly $20 million more in revenue than the U.S. men’s team last year, U.S. women’s team members were paid only 40 percent of what the men earned.
According to the numbers from the collective-bargaining agreement published on si.com, a male player receives $5,000 for a loss in a friendly match and as much as $17,625 for a victory over a highly ranked opponent. A member of the women’s national team receives $1,350 if the team wins but gets no bonus at all for a loss or a tie. Women can receive a bonus of up to $30,000 for making the World Cup roster; men are guaranteed $68,750 for doing so.
The women are three-time World Cup winners and defending Olympic champions. Their victory over Japan in the 2015 World Cup final was the most-watched soccer game of all time in the United States with more than 26 million viewers, according to reported figures. That’s significantly more than the 17.2 million who tuned in for Game 5 of the Mets-Royals World Series or the 23.3 million viewers who tuned in for the deciding Game 6 of last year’s NBA Finals.
The men’s team, by contrast, has not progressed beyond the World Cup quarterfinals since finishing third in the inaugural tournament in 1930. The most- watched U.S. men’s soccer game in the United States was the 2014 U.S.-Portugal group stage World Cup game, which drew 18.3 million viewers.
“We continue to be told we should be grateful just to have the opportunity to play professional soccer, to get paid for doing it,” Solo said Tuesday on the “Today” show. “In this day and age, it’s about equality. It’s about equal rights. It’s about equal pay. We’re pushing for that.”
The suit is somewhat complicated in that it is filed amid a legal dispute between the players’ union and the federation over the validity of their collective-bargaining agreement. In a conference call Thursday, U.S. Soccer officials pushed back, with spokesman Neil Buethe calling some of the revenue figures in the players’ complaint “inaccurate, misleading or both.”
Though the players believe they have a strong case in terms of both win-losses and economics, there also is a case to be made that it should be done simply because it is the right thing to do.
Pay equity is a hot topic right now as women from Wall Street to Walmart have sued their employers for equal pay. The wage gap persists, with women earning 79 cents for every dollar, according to the U.S. Census Bureau, but more and more people are taking notice. Now five popular female athletes have come together, appearing in mass on the “Today” show, to say they have a problem with that inequity.
Sports have long taken a lead role in introducing social change to the masses. Hollander points out that Jackie Robinson broke the color line in baseball in 1947, seven years before Brown vs. Board of Education and 18 years before the voting rights act of 1965.
“We think it’s high time for employers to truly address the inequality and do not only what is fair, but what is right,” Morgan wrote on her Facebook page. “We decided to do this for all the little girls around the country and around the world who deserve to have a voice. If we don’t leverage the voice we have, we are letting them down.”