The women’s soccer pay scandal isn’t just about players


2011 was a banner year for U.S. women’s soccer—and an uneventful one for U.S. men’s soccer. Led by superstars like Hope Solo and Abby Wambach, the U.S. Women’s National Team (WNT) made it all the way to the final of the women’s World Cup (where they lost, heartbreakingly, on a penalty shoot-out after extra time), while the men’s team spent the off-year recovering from their 2010 World Cup embarrassment, when they crashed out of the tournament in the second round against Ghana.

But if you look at the top salaries for 2011 at the U.S. Soccer Federation, none of the women’s success was reflected in their paychecks.

Let’s look first at 2010. That year, according to the Federation’s Form 990 disclosure, the men’s coach, Robert Bradley, earned $818,244. Meanwhile, the women’s coach, Pia Sundhage, was paid $219,635 – just 27% of her male counterpart’s pay.

Maybe that’s fair, you say—after all, Bradley’s team was playing in a World Cup year, but Sundhage had no tournament to coach. But in 2011, was the situation reversed? Well, Sundhage did get a decent bump in pay: she made $299,476 that year. But over on the men’s team, Bradley was replaced by Jürgen Klinsmann, and between the two of them, they earned – wait for it – $1,919,830. Which means that Sundhage’s pay as a percentage of the men’s pay actually fell, to 15.5%, in the year she coached her team all the way to the World Cup final.

The Federation hasn’t filed its Form 990 for 2015 yet, so we don’t know exactly what happened last year. But we do know a bit about what happened in 2014, another year where the MNT lost in the second round of the World Cup, this time to tiny Belgium. The men’s coach, Klinsmann, took home an astonishing $3,232,481 that year, and the Federation paid the team players handsomely too: Clint Dempsey, Geoff Cameron, Jozy Altidore, Tim Howard, and Jermaine Jones all got somewhere between $395,920 and $428,002.

Meanwhile, the pay for the women’s coach was so low that it didn’t even show up on the Federation’s list of “officers, directors, trustees, key employees, and highest compensated employees.”

So yes, it seems pretty clear that the WNT is right to be litigiously furious at their low pay relative to their MNT counterparts. “The Federation is bound by federal law to compensate us at least equally to the rate at which it compensates MNT players,” they say in their complaint, “given that the women and men perform the same job duties; have jobs that require equal skill, effort and responsibilities; and perform our jobs under similar working conditions.” In reality, however, the women get paid substantially less than the men. They conclude:

There are no legitimate, non-discriminatory reasons for this gross disparity of wages, nor can it be explained away by any bona fide seniority, merit or incentive system or any other factor other than sex.

Could the Federation make some kind of case that the women’s lower pay was non-discriminatory? Well, it could try. The men have a much higher opportunity cost, for starters: because they’re very likely to be lavishly paid at club level, they risk a lucrative career every time they face injury by playing for their country. What’s more, because women’s club soccer has smaller viewership, playing for the national team is these athletes’ only real chance of landing a big endorsement contract.

But such arguments are silly on their face. If women earn less than men at the club level, it’s even more important that they’re paid decently by the U.S. Soccer Federation. And it’s the Federation’s purpose to turn soccer into a sport that supports more than just a couple of household names. It can’t just tell all women players that their only real hope is to win a fame lottery that comes around only once every four years.

And then there’s the question of the coaches’ salaries, where the pay for the womens’ coach is literally a rounding error when compared with Klinsmann’s $3 million salary. The WNT is more successful than the MNT; it gets higher ratings; it has a storied history (three World Cups and four Olympic gold medals) which is unsurpassed in men’s or women’s play, by any country in the world. If anybody should be getting the multi-million-dollar coaching here, it’s the women, not the men. And they should be getting paid more than $72,000 a year for playing, too.

The U.S. Soccer Federation is clearly underpaying both its women players and its women’s coaches. The WNT is one of the most inspirational forces in America. It’s time to pay them accordingly.

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