Friday, March 8 was the 109th International Women’s Day celebrated in America. This year, as women all over the earth celebrated one another, the U.S. Women’s soccer team used its platform to exemplify fearlessness and teamwork and to inspire both women and girls, athletes and non-athletes alike.
After decades of inequity in pay, working conditions, medical treatment, and coaching and travel standards, the team filed a lawsuit accusing the U.S. Soccer Organization of “utterly failing to promote gender equality.” Although the women’s team is undoubtedly more successful than the men’s team, a pay-schedule comparison shows that if both teams played twenty “exhibition games” in a year, a man’s salary would average $263,320 while the absolute maximum female salary capped at $90,000. The team accuses U.S. Soccer officials of conforming to a biased pay structure that rewards men more thoroughly despite the conspicuous disproportion in the teams’ recent competitive success.
Although there are currently 28 plaintiffs, all current team members, they are seeking a class-action suit, which they hope will draw previous teammates dating from 2015 to join. In a news release on Friday, captain Megan Rapinoe said that she and her team “feel a responsibility not only to stand up for what we know we deserve as athletes, but also for what we know is right.” There was no “tipping point,” she explains, where the players rallied in anger and demanded change. The decision was not made in haste but rather it has been “a long journey” they have mulled over. For example, they chose an emblematic date to release the suit in order to emphasize the importance of their message.
The U.S. Women’s soccer team is one of the greatest success stories in both women’s athletics and overall soccer history. As three-time world cup winners (1991, 1999, 2015) and four-time Olympic gold medalists (1996, 2004, 2008, 2012), the team should have nothing to prove to their male counterparts who can’t even make it to the World Cup themselves. As Barry Svrluga wrote in “the Washington Post,” “This shouldn’t be a comparison. It just shouldn’t. The women of the U.S. national team play their sport at the highest level available. The men aspire to do the same. Their pay should be the same, period.”
Critics claim that players have different compensation because of the difference in the revenue of the games due to employment and income structures. The bonus pool set by FIFA for the 2014 World Cups, however, provoked U.S. Soccer to pay men 3.115 times the amount they paid women in bonuses, even after the men lost in round sixteen while the women won the World Cup title. FIFA set a $400 million bonus pool for 32 men’s teams and set a $30 million pool for 24 women’s team.
The gender-based pay gap is nothing new. It’s a deep-seated economic problem, American and international, that discriminates against women. Although hugely detrimental, it has been ingrained into our society. According to Pew Research Center, as of 2017, women make 82 cents to a man’s dollar; thus, they would have to work an extra 47 days to equal the amount that a man makes annually. Although they have made some strides due to recent protests, U.S. soccer and other organizations should not wait for the society to fix itself but rather set a precedent for the rest of the society to follow by eliminating any wage gap.
Instead of separating the revenue that the men and women’s teams bring in, there should be a more aggregated view of the sport. This would enable a much more equal pay structure. The fact of the matter is that it’s not even truly about being paid the same. Although the players are professionals and deserve a professionally appropriate salary, it’s more about the practice of viewing the work of women as of less worth. It’s about teaching young girls that although they may work as hard as their brothers, their results won’t be as valued. It’s exceedingly important that teams like the women’s national soccer team, hockey team, and WNBA pros are heard and treated equally.