The U.S. women’s soccer team outperforms the men’s team when it comes to victories, domestic viewership, name recognition and general awesomeness. Its members are stars, consistently ranked No. 1 in the world, and they make millions of dollars for their employer, the U.S. Soccer Federation.
When it comes to pay, however, the women aren’t in the same league as their underachieving male counterparts. The players on the women’s national team are paid less. They claim they get stiffed on perks and work conditions as well. The women complain that they are also given short shrift when it comes to training, promotion and support.
As you can imagine, they’re not happy about it. Recently, the 28 players filed a lawsuit accusing the U.S. Soccer Federation of discrimination because it pays the members of the women’s team far less than the men even though they do the same work. They are asking for damages and back pay as well.
This case will not be easy to unravel because of the way FIFA, soccer’s international governing body, distributes revenue. The fact is, the men’s World Cup brings in much more money for both FIFA and the U.S. Soccer Federation than the women’s World Cup — and that’s how the federation justifies the pay differential. The women argue the federation should share more of the pot with them even if more of the revenue comes from men’s soccer. In their view, it’s as if the workers on an assembly line making compact cars were paid less than those on a line making luxury cars because the compacts bring in less revenue.
Ultimately a judge will sort out the case and decide whether the claims of unequal pay for the same work are valid. But in the meantime, the court of public opinion is growing weary of hearing the same stories about unequal pay — and the same tired excuses for why it can’t be fixed. The reasoning has traditionally been that women’s sports just don’t have the audience to make any serious money.
Perhaps that was true once in an era when women sports programs barely existed. But Title IX, the 1972 law that prohibited gender discrimination in school sports, and evolving attitudes about gender roles have changed the world of sports by encouraging generations of women to compete and seek professional careers. And the appeal of uber athletes like Serena Williams and Alex Morgan, a U.S. women’s soccer team member, easily crosses gender lines.
Pay inequity is not just a sports issue. Women are paid less than men in most occupations. The gap between what the average female workers make in pay relative to the average male worker is generally accepted to be about 80 cents on the dollar. We understand pay disparities are based on many factors — including work histories, time of work, age and seniority — and therefore aren’t easy to fix. But that doesn’t mean we should not continue to try. And that means calling out unfair arrangements when we see them.
— Los Angeles Times