The U.S. Women's National Soccer Team Really Doesn't Want 'Equal' Pay (Although I'm Not Sure Their Fans Know That)

USWNT Midfielder Megan Rapinoe (Image: Wikimedia)

The U.S. Women’s National Soccer Team won the World Cup in spectacular fashion Sunday, beating The Netherlands 2-0 and forcing them to play defense nearly the entire length of the game. It’s a cool story, the ladies tearing up a traditionally male game with guts and talent. It’s a damn shame they’ve wrapped their accomplishment in victimhood and the myth of “equal pay”.

The ladies have certainly been lightening rods. From midfielder Megan Rapinoe’s longstanding dispute with the American flag and anthem, to the ladies’ in-your-face style of sportsmanship (they take that attitude off the field as well), the USWNT has garnered a lot of attention, and not just for their talent (which they indisputably have).

After they won the match Sunday, chants of “equal pay!” broke out from fans in the stands related to the 2016 lawsuit brought by the U.S. women’s soccer team alleging they have generated massive revenue for the U.S. Soccer Federation and soccer in general and should be paid the same as men.

But the fact is, the ladies are given special treatment because the clubs they play with outside of tournament play — which is who pays the men for World Cup tournament play — can’t afford to pay the ladies because they don’t bring in as much money as the men’s clubs. Simple supply and demand.

So the ladies draw a salary from the US Soccer federation to play in tournaments — again, something the men don’t do — and the ladies are paid a salary and bonus even if they don’t play (the men are not).

This Washington Post piece details some of what’s happening, but does a lot of conflating of prize money, ad revenue, and “similarly situated male players.”

The fact is, the ladies are given special treatment to ensure a salary which, by definition, is not equal.

Are the ladies willing to adopt the same pay structure in their quest for “equal” pay? My guess is, no. Because they would be making less money (if they could afford to play at all. Remember, the clubs — which can’t afford to pay them — would be on the hook for paying them).

This Guardian piece from 2016 when the ladies filed suit seeking equal pay — and rightly starts out asking the question: “What is pay?” — explains things better:

[T]he men’s and women’s programs have a few key differences:

  1. International governing body Fifa awards World Cup bonus money on an exponentially different scale: $35m for the last men’s champions, $2m for the women’s.
  2. US men usually get high pay from their professional clubs, while women’s professional soccer is still a low-revenue enterprise in the USA and globally. (Not mentioned in the 60 Minutes report: US Soccer pays salaries for national team players and has supported other costs of the NWSL; spokesman Neil Buethe says the total expenditure has been more than $10m over the league’s four-year history.
  3. The US women receive steady salaries and other benefits the US men do not receive.

If the ladies want to collectively bargain for more ad revenue, that’s reasonable. If they want to ensure equal bonuses for tournament play and make sure their travel accommodations etc. are the same as the men, also reasonable.

But if they want equal pay, they need to equalize the pay structure or their argument is basically trying to have it both ways: getting special treatment to help because they’re women and also getting “equal” pay because they’re women.

And that’s not empowering. It’s just gaming the system.