Linda Robertson

U.S. women’s soccer team makes loud call for equal pay

El equipo femenino de Estados Unidos celebra tras ganar la Copa del Mundo en el 2015.
El equipo femenino de Estados Unidos celebra tras ganar la Copa del Mundo en el 2015. AP

No one would argue that the accomplishments of Mia Hamm, Brandi Chastain, Hope Solo or Carli Lloyd are not as worthy as those of Landon Donovan, Eric Wynalda, Tim Howard or Clint Dempsey. Nor could anyone claim that John McEnroe and Jimmy Connors brought more value to tennis than Chris Evert and Martina Navratilova.

Yet women still have to fight for every penny. The wage gap persists. A concept as simple as equal pay for equal work has never been universally accepted.

Whether money is a measure or a symbol, women are worth less than men.

Paychecks don’t lie.

The equal pay debate that engulfed tennis has now come to the fore in soccer. There should be no debate. Equal pay should be a right.

But five members of the U.S. women’s national team have had to resort to filing a complaint with the Equal Employment Opportunity Commission to get what they deserve. Solo, Lloyd, Alex Morgan, Megan Rapinoe and Becky Sauerbrunn charged their own U.S. Soccer Federation with gender-based wage discrimination.

A week after Billie Jean King and Chris Evert came to the Miami Open to address an issue that was a centerpiece of what they stood for throughout their careers, the soccer players appeared on NBC’s Today Show.

“We believe now the time is right because we believe it’s a responsibility for women’s sports, specifically women’s soccer, to really do whatever it takes for equal pay and equal rights and to be treated with respect,” Solo said Thursday. “We continue to be told just to be grateful for the opportunity to play professional soccer and to get paid for doing it.”

Players on the women’s team assert they earn about four times less than their counterparts on the U.S. men’s team even though the women generated $20 million more in revenue last year and have won three World Cup titles and three consecutive Olympic gold medals. The men have never won either. In fact, the men’s national team lost in the Round of 16 at the 2014 World Cup and the men’s under-23 team failed to qualify for the Olympics for the second time in a row.

“I think we’ve proven our worth over the years,” Lloyd said on the Today Show. “Coming off a World Cup win, the pay disparity between the men and women is just too large.”

She is a member of the most popular women’s team in the sports world. More than 23 million TV viewers watched them defeat Japan in last summer’s World Cup final, a record for soccer in the U.S. and comparable to the 2014 World Series Game 7.

In one example of the disparity, when the women play in a friendly, they receive a $1,350 bonus if they win and zero if they lose or tie. The U.S. men receive as much as $17,625 for winning, depending on the opponent’s rank, and are guaranteed $5,000 no matter the outcome. Among U.S. Soccer’s highest-paid employees are five male players who each earned more than $400,000.

The women are allotted a per diem of $60 while the men get $75. What is the justification? Are men hungrier than women?

The disparity in pay from FIFA is also abominable. The U.S. women’s team earned $2 million for its World Cup; the German men earned $35 million.

“When they asked for the same treatment as the men, they were told it was irrational,” said the team’s attorney, Jeffrey Kessler, who has taken on the NFL and represented Tom Brady in past cases. “Now that might be a good answer in 1816. It’s not an acceptable answer in 2016.”

What’s irrational is that U.S. Soccer undermines its greatest asset. The women have also complained about inferior working conditions, such as turf or unsafe fields. The EEOC complaint follows an exchange of lawsuits over the terms of a 2013 collective bargaining agreement and the team’s right to go on strike. Solo said a boycott of the Rio de Janeiro Olympics is not out of the question.

Solo and her teammates are following in the pioneering footsteps of King, who led a courageous battle to form the WTA despite threats that women would be banned from tournaments. She lobbied for equal prize money in Grand Slams and won when the U.S. Open decided to compensate men and women equally in 1973. It took another 34 years for Wimbledon to do the same, after Venus Williams wrote a letter asking why her trophy was worth less than Roger Federer’s. The Miami Open was always an equal pay leader.

King and Evert recalled the days when women earned $1,000 to every $12,000 the men took home. They laughed about the discrimination they endured, being shunned by men, knowing “feminist” was a dirty word. But there was a tinge of regret in their voices that their revolution was being revived. They were dragged back behind barriers they overcame long ago by the sexist comments of Raymond Moore, who said female players should get down on their knees and thank male players for the chance to ride on their coattails, and Novak Djokovic, who said men deserve higher pay — although he admires women for competing despite those bothersome “hormones and different stuff.”

The wage gap discussion rears its ugly head at a pivotal time in the U.S., when presidential candidates are being asked how and when it can finally be eradicated. King encourages girls to play sports so when they get jobs perhaps they’ll have the power to change “a world that is teed up for us by men.”

“When a woman makes 78 cents on the dollar and brings it home, her family suffers, her husband suffers,” King said. “If she’s a single mother, she suffers for her children. This goes really deep. This goes down to real families, real people.”

Serena Williams chastised Djokovic by imagining herself as a mother, and telling her daughter that her son deserves more money because he is male.

As to the argument that men play five Grand Slam sets to women’s three, should a marathoner automatically earn more than Usain Bolt?

Sport is a form of entertainment and athletes are paid for their entertainment value.

The message from the soccer and tennis players isn’t about who should get more and who should get less. It’s about fairness, inclusion and respect. King won her “Battle of the Sexes.” She doesn’t want to play another one.

“What about when Chris and Martina were playing and their ratings were better than the men?” King said. “We didn’t say, ‘Oh, we deserve more than the men.’ No. Let’s just keep it equal. Let’s help each other.”