Not since NFL players took a knee during the national anthem has a social issue got such a boost from a sporting event. When the U.S. Women’s Nation Team (USWNT) won its record fourth World Cup soccer championship on Sunday, jubilant spectators chanted not only “U-S-A” but also “Equal pay!”
The U.S. team’s victory, its second consecutive World Cup, backed up their campaign for equal pay with their male counterparts by presenting another dramatic example of the pay gap having nothing to do with performance. The U.S. men’s team, in contrast, failed even to qualify for the 2018 World Cup tournament and on Sunday lost to its rival Mexico in a regional championship.
In March, 28 members of the women’s team filed a lawsuit against the U.S. Soccer Federation for alleged discrimination “for substantially equal work and by denying them at least equal playing, training, and travel conditions; equal promotion of their games; equal support and development for their games; and other terms and conditions of employment equal to the [Men’s National Team].”
“Critics of women’s sports have long argued that poor performance and general lack of interest are valid reasons to not pay female athletes the same as their male counterparts, but do those arguments hold up?,” asks writer Lydia Dishman in Fast Company. Not hardly, she reports. The victories speak for themselves. “As for lack of interest, according to the Wall Street Journal, U.S. women’s soccer games have generated more revenue for the USSF than U.S. men’s games over the past three years. And according to FIFA, television ratings for the women’s final shattered records both here and abroad, with 28.1 million viewers worldwide and 6.1 million in the U.S.—despite not being on during prime time.”
“U.S. Soccer has welcomed the team’s success,” reported the New York Times, “even as it has challenged the players’ math, arguing that the situation is complicated by a compensation structure negotiated by each team that pays the men and women differently.”
Yet the women’s team could credibly argue that they have moved the ball, not only on the playing field and in court, but also in the realm of public opinion. “I think we’re done with: Are we worth it? Should we have equal pay? Is the market the same? Yada yada,” the American midfielder Megan Rapinoe said, adding: “We—all players, every player at this World Cup—put on the most incredible show that you could ever ask for. We can’t do anything more, to impress more, to be better ambassadors, to take on more, to play better, to do anything. It’s time to move that conversation forward to the next step.”
Following the World Cup victory, U.S. Soccer and the women’s team are expected to go into mediation for the lawsuit, Dishman reported. “With their win at the World Cup, the [women’s team] is hot right now, and a prompt mediation may be more beneficial for both parties than lengthy legal proceedings,” said Kathleen McLeod Caminiti, an attorney with the Pay Equity Practice Group of Fisher Phillips, a national labor and employment law firm that represents employers, in a statement.
The notorious gender-pay gap, of course, isn’t confined to sports. It persists across a wide array of industries and has proven a stubborn problem to fix. “Retaining women and minorities, resolving pay gaps in compensation and increasing equity in the workplace take an unrelenting focus on structural obstacles, unconventional approaches to human resources and an uncompromising commitment to fostering a place where people want to stick around,” observed the Washington Post last month.