Welcome to the first edition of “Rantz Wears the Pants,” a regular column from Susie Rantz on soccer and other random musings.
Last week, people came together to celebrate International Women’s Day — lifting up women who have made an impact on their lives while highlighting what more needs to be done to achieve gender equity across the globe.
Joining in the “celebration” were 28 members of the United States Women’s National Team (USWNT), including Reign FC’s Megan Rapinoe and Allie Long, who filed a lawsuit against the U.S. Soccer Federation (USSF) for “institutionalized gender discrimination.” The move was the next step following a discrimination complaint submitted by five USWNT players to the Equal Employment Opportunity Commission (EEOC) in 2016. Last month, EEOC granted the players a “right to sue.”
The filing is not just focused on equal pay for equal work, although that is a significant part of the discussion. There are also references to playing surfaces, travel conditions, game promotion, and medical personnel.
A lot of smart people have already covered the legal details of the lawsuit. This column is not intended to be smart, so we are not going to rehash their points.
Instead, I want to pose one simple question tied to this lawsuit: why not support these women in their fight for equal treatment?
Before you answer, let me help set the stage.
The stated mission of U.S. Soccer is “to make soccer, in all its forms, a preeminent sport in the United States and to continue the development of soccer at all recreational and competitive levels.” No reference to gender. No indication of financial targets. The organization’s primary objective is to advance soccer in this country.
Looking at this objectively for one second, one doesn’t have to do much thinking to conclude that the women do just as much — if not more — to advance this mission as their male counterparts. The 2015 Women’s World Cup final, which, in case you forgot, featured the U.S. and hattrick-scoring Carli Lloyd, was the most-watched soccer event in U.S. history.
According to U.S. Youth Soccer, girls’ participation in high school soccer programs saw a boost of 45 percent between 1999 and 2014, while participation figures went up 30 percent for boys. It’s hard to point to the exact role the USWNT played in that spike, but it came during a time they won a World Cup in 1999 and Olympic gold medals in 2004, 2008, and 2012. It’s hard to not believe in some sort of correlation.
“But what about revenue?” You shout to me across the room as I quietly type this column. “Shouldn’t the men get more because they bring in a buttload more money?”
Thanks for the question. You might have noticed I edited your words slightly. This column is PG, no need to get feisty. In all sincerity, though, I’m grateful to have the opportunity to answer the question. During fiscal year 2016 (April 2015-March 2016), when the complaint was first submitted, the USWNT pulled in more revenue than the men.
Now that we have that out of the way, let’s return to my original question: why not support these women in their quest for equal treatment?
Does it harm you personally? Will it kill soccer in America, just like the Sounders did when they traveled to Atlanta last season? Does it hamper U.S. Soccer’s efforts to grow soccer in America? If they are a well-run organization, the obvious conclusion is NO.
Let’s look at what has happened since the original complaint was filed by five USWNT players in 2016. The WNT played 21 percent of their 62 domestic matches on turf between 2014 and 2017, compared to 2 percent for the men, which was really just one game. You might also recall the WNT refused to play in Hawaii at the end of 2015 after Rapinoe tore her ACL on a subpar practice field and they saw the field conditions for their scheduled match.
However, after agreeing to a new collective bargaining agreement in 2017, the women’s team didn’t play a single match on turf in 2018. (THIS IS NOT THE COLUMN TO ARGUE ABOUT BAD GRASS VERSUS GOOD TURF, THANK YOU VERY MUCH.)
Change. Positive change. Because the WNT used their increasing name recognition after the World Cup to push for it.
All of us have the chance now to support another push toward progress.
The women’s game continues to grow in positive ways around the world. Just this weekend, a crowd of 60,739 turned up to watch Atletico Madrid take on Barcelona, setting a record for attendance at a women’s club match. The two teams are in a tight battle at the top of Liga Femenina Iberdrola, and Barcelona — sitting 6 points behind Atletico — came out on top 2-0.
Change. Positive change. Because — ever so slowly — more marketing, TV promotions, and access are being given to the women’s game.
At the same time, women’s national team players in Colombia are speaking out about sexual harassment and poor working conditions. They claim the players haven’t received stipends for national team training, weren’t given prize money for advancing in major tournaments like the World Cup, and are being forced to pay their own way to get to training.
One step forward, two steps back.
The women in the United States don’t face disparities as dire as Colombia, but our country certainly sets a precedent for the rest of the world when it comes to how we should support women’s soccer. If USSF doesn’t give women equal training resources, pay, and bonuses, why should FIFA push for World Cup winnings to be more equitable? Where is the motivation for other countries to invest in the women’s game?
Small changes are showing that USSF is willing to listen. Players on the men’s and women’s teams now receive equal per diems, according to the federation. The Los Angeles Times also reports that, after USSF chartered 17 flights for the MNT and zero for the WNT in 2017, “the women’s team has flown on charter flights seven times in 2018-19 to six for the men.”
Change. Positive change.
Because these women fought hard for it.
Alex Morgan is a global star today, but her rise to stardom didn’t come without a constant uphill battle. She’s fighting today to make it easier for the next generation to play the sport they love as a professional.
It’s another World Cup year, and Reign FC has up to eight players who will be called to represent their countries in France this summer. We can support them now by showing up for Reign matches, but we can support them well into the future by asking all those who hold the power to give women equal pay, equal resources, and equal treatment.
Supporting these women likely leads to increased revenue for USSF, as similar levels of promotion and ticket prices should boost revenue, and more resources for the women could lead to additional sponsors, greater TV viewership, and stronger jersey sales. One would hope that kind of spike would do wonders for the NWSL as well.
The U.S. Men’s National Team has already spoken in support of their counterparts, promoting a revenue-sharing model where the WNT would receive higher pay in years they bring in more revenue, and the reverse if revenue decreased.
The USMNT players' union backs the WNT players' lawsuit... and makes some news along the way:— Jonathan Tannenwald (@thegoalkeeper) March 8, 2019
"An equal division of revenue attributable to the MNT and WNT programs is our primary pursuit as we engage with the US Soccer Federation in collective bargaining." pic.twitter.com/9nlaBpXEZz
So, on this first-ever edition of Rantz Wears the Pants, I urge you: stop asking why women deserve equal pay, and ask why they still have to keep fighting for it.