By Tim Pershing
The fight for recognition and higher pay is nothing new for American soccer players, both men and women. That’s why it is so sad for those who have supported the sport over the last three decades to see what is happening now. Just as American soccer was earning respect as a viable, money-making endeavor, all the progress has become overshadowed by wage disputes, allegations of inferior playing conditions and outright sexism by some of the highest ranking FIFA officials.
It should go without saying that women and men should get equal pay for equal work. It is a concept so fundamentally fair and just that it defies logic how it is even an issue in 2016. Yet, with five key members of the United States Women’s National Team filing an EEOC complaint alleging wage discrimination against the United States Soccer Federation, it is an all too real blight on gender issues in the 21st century. The suit brought by FIFA Women’s Player of the Year Carli Lloyd, Becky Sauerbrunn, Hope Solo, Alex Morgan and Megan Rapinoe highlights the sad state of not only the pay gap in women’s sports but in many other professions as well.
It’s laughable to suggest that women don’t give as much as men, on and off the field. The fields are the same (except when turf is substituted for grass), the duration is the same, the schedules are the same. Equal. The one thing that isn’t equal is the success rate of the teams in international play. There is no question that the women are the far more successful team but that doesn’t seem to matter to the U.S. Soccer Federation.
When considering how much the Women’s National Team means to the American fans, especially girls who look up to them as role models, it would seem obvious that the women and men should be supported equally. One of the greatest sports moments in the last century occurred when Brandi Chastain ripped a left-footed penalty kick past Chinese goalkeeper Gao Hong at the Rose Bowl to win the 1999 World Cup in front of a sold-out crowd of over 90,000 screaming soccer fans. That moment in American sports history cannot be underestimated.
The U.S. women’s team has been consistently the most dominant team in the world for the past 25 years. No small feat in global sports, and yet they are still relegated to the back of the line when it comes to cashing in on that performance.
I would rather watch the U.S. women play at this point than the men. Who is subsidizing whom? And why should it matter? It’s U.S. soccer. It’s one body. One nation. One team. Or at least that’s what the U.S. Federation wants us to believe. We should be united in our goal of lifting up all athletes, regardless of gender, into the equal pay range we know they deserve. Doing so lifts up the sport as a whole.
Women’s professional sports are still relatively new compared to men’s sports. Of course it takes time to build up team loyalties and professional programs, but it is also important to provide athletes and teams with the funding necessary for success. In a recent National Women’s Soccer League (NWSL) game between the Western New York Flash and the Seattle Reign, the game was played on a makeshift pitch placed in the outfield of a baseball field. The playing space ended up being undersized and was not only an insult to the players but also to the sport. NWSL players have also complained about substandard hotel accommodations that included bed bugs and mold. This is no way to treat professional athletes, some of whom helped secure a World Cup win in 2015. When forced to play on undersized field or on artificial turf or when provided with unacceptable accommodations, how can professional women athletes be expected to help grow the sport?
And what is this saying to all the girls who want to grow up strong, happy and equal in all aspects of the law? When we do not pay and treat professional women athletes the same as their male counterparts, the message is that women’s sports are just not as important. This benefits no one.
There are many arguments to both sides of the issue and while the specifics of the money involved may never be truly known, it shouldn’t matter. The U.S. Soccer Federation should have worked with the team instead of brushing them aside. When the women’s team members ask for equal pay, they aren’t looking for a fight, they aren’t looking to grandstand and they aren’t trying to be greedy. They are just asking for what they deserve. Nothing more. Nothing less.
Tim Pershing is the co-founder and director of Pacific Reentry Career Services, a new nonprofit that helps formerly incarcerated women find meaningful employment.