The US Women’s soccer players have a case against the soccer federation. I mean this both legally, in that they are literally filing a claim against the Federation demanding equal pay, and morally, in that the dominant American women seem to deserve as much scratch as the middling men’s team.
The legal question comes down, basically, to asking what is “equal.” This is an extraordinarily complicated question because the two teams play in two different competitions. The men have more cup qualifying matches because there are more men’s teams in CONCACAF, whereas the women have victory tours. Men’s bonuses are a supplement to club salaries. Women can’t afford to rely on the nascent NWSL and other fledgling leagues abroad.
Equality, in a courtroom setting, comes down to several bickering lawyers and few satisfying answers. What will likely occur is equivalent to King Solomon splitting a million different babies. This is massively important – especially to the women who put their ACLs on the line for the USSF – but even a court case won’t move the needle all that much.
The more interesting question is the moral one. The women are asking a question that very rarely gets asked in professional sports: what’s even the point of US soccer?
Professional leagues exist to make money. Asking the NFL to consider gender equality is akin to asking a crocodile to cook its prey before eating. Even as the MLS tries to assert itself as this noble underdog, it pays rookies like Brandon Vincent less than probably any other Stanford grad makes in the Chicago area. Leagues are immune from this conversation because I don’t believe in the power of sport to overwhelm the power of fat stacks of cash.
Is the United States Soccer Federation any different? Let’s explore.
The point of the USSF is to win
Result: The women deserve all of the monies.
American women have won multiple World Cups and Olympic gold medals. They’re one of the deepest and most fearsome teams in the world. Even without the retired Abby Wambach and the problematic Hope Solo, they’re a favorite in every match they play. The women should all live like queens. Their clubhouse should look like Santigold’s Master of My Make Believe album cover. To paraphrase none other than Ol’ Dirty Bastard (RIP), “If Carli wants her money, I think y’all should give her her money.”
The men? Well, I suppose they’d deserve some money so that they can learn to one day live like the women’s team does. But they should get into the World Cup semifinals before they can expect new jerseys every match, is what I’m saying.
The point of the USSF is to represent America abroad
Result: Split the money down the middle.
American men are no longer an easy out at every tournament and their Mexican rivals have to grumblingly give them some respect. What’s more, their international brand is so achingly American. They’re a bunch of try-hards who make up for a lack of technical ability with effort. Jurgen Klinsmann’s trying to change that, but I hope he never does because there will never be anything as American as a right back bombing up the field and sending a cross eight yards over everyone’s head, five times a game.
The women represent the other part of the American dream: crushing everything in their path and telling the crushed they should’ve stayed out of crushing distance.
Nothing is broken here. Deandre Yedlin is Rosie the Riveter, a hard worker doing the hard work that must be done. Carli Lloyd is General Patton and Robert Oppenheimer rolled into one, “I am become death, destroyer of worlds.” I can salute to either of those.
The point of the USSF is to produce great American players
Result: The men need more money.
An all-time XI of the top women’s players would include at least a handful of Americans. If the women were arguing that they need more money to play better, instead of that they deserve more money, they wouldn’t have much of an argument. The women’s soccer pyramid is sending girls to college and producing talented athletes. They’re doing fine.
The men’s pyramid is a mess. There’s more and more money going into boys’ training (and the MLS is doing yeoman’s work in that regard) but there’s still no consensus on where great players come from. Tim Howard was a basketball player until he got to Seton Hall. Landon Donovan had to give up his adolescence to be the American dream. Michael Bradley is an Appalachian coal miner who happened to be born to a Princeton soccer coach. Clint Dempsey is just killing time between fishing trips. Fabian Johnson is actually the best American men’s player alive and has to defend his Americanness to all comers.
It’s great that money’s being thrown at this problem, but that’s not a solution unto itself. I don’t have that solution, and nobody else does. So what else can we do? More money.
The point of the USSF is to make money
Result: Shruggie McShrugface
If all we’re doing here is arguing about what assets to allocate profits toward in order to generate more revenue, we’re a) soulless fun-suckers and b) by-proxy employees of Sunhil Gulati.
The women’s team made more money than the men’s last year for the first time. While that’s probably not going to continue going forward, it may be a sign of things to come. The women have proven to be much more marketable than the men and, after all, girls buy sneakers too.
That said, the Men’s World Cup is one of the biggest cash cows in the universe and the USWNT will never ever play in it. If the USSF wants a bigger pail under those FIFA udders, they’re going to need a much better USMNT. That means more infrastructure, more incentives, and yes more dual nationals. It’s an expensive undertaking, but one can’t look at all those billions of dollars at stake and say it isn’t worth it.
But is the point of playing soccer in this country to make money? The tenor of the court case says “yes.” And I can’t fault any man or woman for trying to squeeze extra cash out of USSF, CONCACAF, or FIFA that’s only going to go to an executive otherwise.
So is that it? Is the men-vs.-women angle of this just another battle for who gets the scraps from the soccer machine? If so, then it lets the USSF off the hook by diving deep into the exact question they want us to ask. There are a whole myriad of other questions out there. Maybe we should ask those instead (and probably give the women some more money.)
This piece is by Asher Kohn, a regular contributor to SiriusXM, chat it up with him on global soccer policy, either US national team, the MLS or whatever on Twitter at @AJKhn. And don’t forget to catch all of the soccer action on SiriusXM FC.
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