The United States Women’s National Soccer Team had not lost in so long that you could be forgiven for forgetting that they could. They have won the last two World Cups, and four of the eight Women’s World Cups ever played. During their most recent World Cup run, they never trailed; even when the score was tight, the outcome did not seem in doubt—such was their skill and their collective determination. At some point in the past decade—perhaps during the 2015 World Cup final, when Carli Lloyd hammered the ball from midfield over the Japanese goalkeeper’s head and into the net, and certainly by the time Megan Rapinoe stood with her arms outstretched, the goddess of victory, after scoring a goal against France, four years later—winning seemed to become an integral, irrevocable aspect of who they were. “We are such a proud and strong and defiant group of women,” Rapinoe said after the team’s World Cup championship last year. “We’ve done exactly what we’ve set out to do, what we wanted to do. Getting to play at the highest level at the World Cup is ridiculous, but, to be able to couple that with everything off the field, and to back up all of those words with performances and back up those performances with words—it’s just incredible. I feel like this team is in the midst of changing the world around us.”
If the team had a rival, it was not on the field, where no one could touch them. It was with their own federation, U.S. Soccer, which for years had underpaid and undervalued them, the women believed. A year ago, just months before the start of the World Cup, the women filed a gender-discrimination suit against U.S. Soccer, alleging that the federation paid them less and treated them worse than the men’s national team—even though the women were, by many metrics, more popular, and by any measure more successful. The federation countered by noting that the women were paid under a different structure than the men, according to the rules of a collective-bargaining agreement that the women had agreed to—and also that, during the past five years, the women have been paid more, in aggregate and on average, than the men. The women countered by pointing out that they had played more and succeeded more, which earned them bonuses: while the women were winning two World Cups, the men failed to qualify for theirs entirely.
体育投注平台When the U.S. women’s team clinched the championship in Lyon, France, in front of sixty thousand people, the crowd erupted in chants of “Equal pay! Equal pay!” An estimated two hundred and sixty million people were watching the match on television. At a ticker-tape parade in New York, a few days later, the same cheer resounded. The team’s sponsors ran commercials extolling not only the players but their cause. Presidential candidates praised them. The players were more than a team, it appeared; they were a movement, and the movement seemed inexorable.
体育投注平台The federation fought back. On March 9th, about a year after the players filed their suit, lawyers for U.S. Soccer argued in legal filings that the pay disparity between the men and the women was justified by the women’s relative lack of athleticism. “Indisputable science” proved that the women were inferior to the men, the argument ran. The lawyers insisted that the job of a men’s-national-team player “carries more responsibility within U.S. Soccer than the job of [a women’s-national-team] player,” and that being a member of the men’s team “requires a higher level of skill based on speed and strength.”
Two days later, the U.S. women’s team played Japan, in the final of the SheBelieves Cup. The women emerged onto the field with their training shirts inside out, hiding the U.S. Soccer shield, but leaving visible the four stars representing four World Cup titles. Seven minutes into the game, Rapinoe coolly scored off a free kick, on a laser-like shot just under the crossbar. Twenty minutes after that, Christen Press spun around the ball at the top of the penalty area, and, in the same motion, lofted a shot that floated high over the keeper’s head, dropping delicately into the left corner of the goal. In the eighty-third minute came a dagger from Lindsey Horan. The U.S. women won, 3–1, extending their unbeaten streak to thirty-one consecutive games.
After the game, Rapinoe spoke about the arguments that U.S. Soccer had made days before, in court. “To see that blatant misogyny and sexism as the argument used against us is really disappointing,” she said. Sponsors of U.S. Soccer, including Coca-Cola, Volkswagen, Budweiser, Visa, and Deloitte, had all blasted the federation. The men’s team, who were in the midst of renegotiating their own collective-bargaining agreement, had already made a lengthy statement in support of the women. (“In our estimation, the women were due at least triple what our expired deal was worth in player compensation,” it read. “We believe the Federation should have agreed to a deal directly tied to a fair share of the revenue players generate.”) Carlos Cordeiro, the president of U.S. Soccer, apologized, pleaded ignorance, and announced that new lawyers would be hired. Soon after that, he resigned.
Then the sports world came to a halt. The players, like most people, went home and stayed there. The trial, originally set for May 5th, was pushed back. As life changed in previously unimaginable ways体育投注平台, the women were left waiting to make history. And then, on Friday, May 1st, federal Judge R. Gary Klausner, ruling in U.S. District Court for the Central District of California in Pasadena, rejected the plaintiffs’ argument and sided with U.S. Soccer, which had insisted that the women’s claim of unequal pay due to gender discrimination should be dismissed. (He allowed a more narrow claim of unequal treatment, related to travel, training, and medical staff, to go forward; the trial is scheduled to begin June 16th.) The truly unthinkable had happened: the U.S. Women’s National Soccer Team lost.
Whatever the public might have believed, winning the lawsuit was never a sure thing. If the men’s team had simply qualified for their World Cup, they would have earned more than the women during the past five years. But they didn’t, and so the women have in fact made more money than the men. It is also true that the men and women negotiated substantially different collective-bargaining agreements: the men, under theirs, were paid for individual performances, in a pay-for-play model. The women had rejected a similar structure, opting instead for more security, with negotiated salaries, maternity and child-care benefits, and severance pay for when players were cut. The court found that the women could not retroactively object to having agreed to an inferior arrangement.
Of course, the women did not agree to lower bonuses in favor of more security because they believed it was sure to pay them more but because they didn’t have much of a choice. Men’s professional soccer is the world’s most popular sport; many of the players on the U.S. men’s team make hundreds of thousands, and even millions, playing for their club teams. They could afford the riskier pay structure for the national team. When the women were negotiating their agreement, the very future of women’s professional soccer seemed fragile; for some players in the National Women’s Soccer League, pay was low enough that they worked second jobs. They needed insurance because they weren’t sure to get it elsewhere.