The U.S. Women’s National Soccer Team played their first match in the group stage of the 2019 World Cup against Thailand, a team they were expected to beat… though tallying up 13 goals, with five from Alex Morgan, was a pleasant shock to fans. An analyst from Fox Sports Network called the match “target practice” as he discussed with his fellow panel members what the best way is to “win” after pulling so far ahead of an opponent — play on, or pull back to spare their pride? Because of the team’s relentless effort yesterday to light up the scoreboard, the panelists agreed that one thing was quite clear: The UWNST is not here to play around.
While we await their next match, the headlines have surged regarding the team’s lawsuit against the U.S. Soccer Federation, which the players filed earlier this year. The USSF has contended that “women do not deserve to be paid equally to men” when you look at what the organization refers to as “market realities,” the statistics that it believes represents a fair, market-based tabulation of player salaries based on revenue from things like viewership, ticket sales, and winnings.
There’s no date set yet for the legal proceedings to begin, but ultimately, this legal battle is going to have implications that reach far beyond a win at the 2019 World Cup, something that has fired up gender equality activists and run-of-the-mill sexists, alike — you know, the kind that unapologetically make the knee-jerk declaration that it’s just not possible for female athletes to be “as good” as male athletes because, well, biology.
The word “deserve,” with my emphasis, is worth unpacking; after all, the rules were drawn up by men, not by gods. “We know the sacrifices we make; it’s no different than what men make,” two-time FIFA player of the year Carli Lloyd told New York Times Magazine. “We’re away from our families. We’re away from our friends. We’re spending every waking hour dedicating ourselves to this.” In that context, you can argue that female players are performing the same duties on the job as men but are paid much, much less, which is the definition of gender discrimination. The minimum salary for women in the league is just over $16,500 and capped at just over $46,000, while their male peers make a minimum of $50,000 with no maximum.
It’s also true that women’s games don’t get promoted as much as the men’s games, so “deserve” becomes somewhat of a meaningless word. A former soccer marketing executive told The Atlantic that the women’s team had been “under-marketed” and that “there was a need for the USSF to invest equally in the [women’s] and [men’s teams].” After all, as with any sport or team, funding promotional spots is a key way to develop larger and more dedicated fan bases.
It’s also worth noting that, despite glaring disparities in pay and promotion, women’s soccer in the U.S. is funded and cultivated at a level that far surpasses that of many countries in the world, especially compared to teams in South American and Africa. FiveThirtyEight reported that Argentina’s top players only make $330 per month for their work, and that the team in the past has worked for free while having to fund their own travel arrangements, pay for their own uniforms, and buy their own health insurance. A legal win for the U.S. women will hopefully serve as a beacon of equal opportunity for female soccer players around the world.
The U.S. plays in the next group stage match against Chile this coming Sunday at noon ET.