Equal pay for unequal achievements

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Last summer, shortly after the U.S. Women’s National Soccer team won its third World Cup, articles such as this one started circulating. This week, unsurprisingly, five of the most prominent American women’s players in the game filed an action with the Equal Employment Opportunity Commission, accusing the U.S. Soccer of discrimination, citing the disparity between what the USWNT players are paid, versus what the players on the men's team (USMNT) are paid. The disparity? The USMNT players are paid nearly four times more than their USWNT counterparts.
How can we make sense of that inequality? 

Alex Morgan the poster-child of the USWNT, and hero to many young girls in the U.S. and around the world, sums up it nicely: ‘‘Every single day we sacrifice just as much as the men. We work just as much’’, she told NBC’s ‘Today’ show last week. ‘‘Our fans really do appreciate us every day for that. We saw that with the high of last summer. We’re really asking, and demanding now, that our federation, and our employer really step up and appreciate us as well.” 

It’s certainly no accident that someone as high profile and "marketable" as Alex Morgan is leading this charge. Likewise, her four colleagues are some of the most recognizable women soccer players on the planet; USWNT captain and World Cup Final hat-trick scorer Carli Lloyd, and long-time teammates Hope Solo, Megan Rapinoe and Becky Sauerbrunn. The five of them have amassed well over 700 appearances for this country — without a 401K. Over 700 appearances and paid a fraction of what their male counterparts have enjoyed playing fewer games.

The idea of ROI (return on investment) is big in America — getting bang for your buck. So what exactly has the US Soccer Federation gotten for their money when it comes to the USMNT versus the USWNT?

In the case of the men’s team, one could mount a very strong argument that the U.S. Soccer Federation has seen very little by way of a return. Yes, the game of soccer is growing at an encouraging rate here in America, but it's an increased participation amongst young girls that’s causing that spike. Percentage-wise, boys’ participation has remained more or less stagnant for the past 20 years, but the girls' numbers continue to increase. Could it be that girls are getting more involved in the game of soccer because the UWSNT inspires that involvement? 

In the past 20 years, the furthest the USMNT have gone in the men’s World Cup is the quarter final round, in 2002. During that same period, they've won the CONCACAF Gold Cup on four occasions, an inter-continental tournament with realistically only two are probable winners, the U.S. or Mexico. It's true that the mens' team made great strides on the global stage in the past two decades. They are now a highly credible team who, on their day, can hang with all but a few national teams. But their progress just doesn’t translate to the trophy haul that the women have brought in during the same period.

In addition to winning all manner of small round-robin tournaments and competitions, the USWNT have also won four CONCACAF Gold Cups, four Olympic gold medals and, perhaps most impressively, two women’s World Cups — adding to their first title back in 1991. The USWNT have returned on the very little investment made in them, and then some. Now it’s time for the U.S. Soccer Federation to take a little of their reported $20M surplus  and invest in the US women's players at an appropriate, not to mention respectful, level.

Equal pay for equal work is one thing. But when the achievements of two teams are so unequal, it makes any resistance to addressing what is an embarrassing wage disparity utterly indefensible.

Mark Turner is formerly of Oxford, England, but has lived in America for over 15 years, the majority of that time in Colorado. Mark enjoys playing soccer (football!), hiking and biking when the weathers good, and when the weathers rotten writing blog entries that he hopes will amuse and entertain, and co-hosting 'The Back Chat Show' on KCMJ 93.9 FM. Mark can be followed on Twitter @melchett.


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