By Griffin Guinta
Last summer, people across the world collectively held their mouths agape as Carli Lloyd launched a shot from midfield off the post and into the back of the net. Her third goal of the game effectively cemented the United States Women’s National Team (USWNT)’s third World Cup victory after a heartbreaking loss in the final to Japan in 2011. The women captured the nation’s attention throughout the summer–especially with legend Abby Wambach retiring–and then the focus seemed to swing right back to the men’s team. Yep, the same men’s team who didn’t even place at the Gold Cup, a competition between only North American teams that they were heavily favored to win. But the true atrocity isn’t just the disparity in attention, it’s the lack of equal pay between the two teams that’s spurred several current USWNT players, including Hope Solo and the aforementioned Lloyd, to file a wage discrimination lawsuit against the U.S. Soccer Federation.
To be honest, I follow the men’s team religiously and pull my hair out when we can’t even beat Guatemala in a World Cup qualifier. But I can’t help but think: why does a middling men’s team that has never even made it past the quarterfinal round of a world cup get paid more than the best women’s team in the world?
I heard an argument the other day that men’s professional sports generate more revenue than women’s professional sports because there’s a greater demographic of men watching sports. Fine. However, that same argument doesn’t apply when it comes to this scenario. Last year, the USWNT generated $2 million more in revenue than the men’s team, yet the women are earning a quarter of the average salary that the men make, according to ESPN-W. An even more staggering statistic, as reported by ESPN: women’s players earn about $99,000 each if they win 20 friendlies in a year, whereas the men would make around $260,000 each if they post 20 wins. Even if they don’t win a majority of their games, the men still receive around $100,000 each. FiveThirtyEight, a popular statistics website, did a breakdown of salaries (taking bonuses, sponsorships, and ticket revenue into consideration) and found that Carli Lloyd and Hope Solo combined make a little under 200,000 less than U.S. men’s team captain Clint Dempsey.
It seems everyone except for the U.S. Soccer Federation is baffled by this odd pay gap as well. USMNT legends Landon Donovan and Tim Howard have both expressed their support for the women’s team, even citing the USMNT’s own struggle to get paid adequately over the past decade. This seems like an easy call for the U.S. Soccer Federation to make, yet they’ve remained fairly mum on any changes happening soon.
To be fair, they aren’t the sole culprit in this pay fiasco. FIFA, the much-maligned organization that has a tendency to steep itself in controversy, is responsible for divvying up the prize money for its major tournaments. Even though the U.S. Men’s team bowed out in the quarterfinal against Belgium in the 2014 World Cup, they received $9 million total prize money from FIFA. The women, on the other hand, received $2 million for winning the entire thing. Hmm…
Let’s also not forget the fact that the 2015 Women’s World Cup was played on turf, a harsh surface for a game that requires copious sliding and diving, and the 2014 Men’s World Cup was played all on natural grass. Several women were injured playing on the plastic turf, including USWNT defender Sydney LeRoux, who famously tweeted a picture of her bloodied knees following a match played on artificial grass.
Rankings and glory aside, both teams put in the same amount of work and deserve an equal amount of pay regardless. The classic arguments of “men draw more revenue” or “men win more” are completely invalid here, since both of those things are objectively untrue. Imagine if you worked overtime and were the Employee of the Month but were paid less than one of your co-workers who just showed up every day and did an average job. The women that filed the lawsuit aren’t even asking for more money–which they probably deserve–they just want equal pay. Sadly, this problem is nothing new. In most job fields across the country, women statistically earn less even if they put in more work. Perhaps the USWNT’s stand can help effect change not just in sports, but in all job sectors.