I can still remember that moment as a little kid in El Paso, Texas. We took the field against our opponents, the Red Raiders, a team from a different league. As I chased down a Red Raider who was looking to score, I noticed something unusual — it was a girl. She eventually passed the ball to a teammate who scored a goal. We eventually tied the game and that’s how it ended, but it was evidence our YMCA league was no longer a male-exclusive sport.
Fast forward to 1999 when our department watched the U.S. Women’s National Team (USWNT) beat China on penalty kids in front of a packed Rose Bowl. Their games filled football stadiums and pulled in huge ratings.
One can understand why the men were paid better before then. As the 2014 ESPN film on the USWNT from 1999 revealed, when the US women won their first World Cup in 1991 only three fans greeted them upon their return to the USA.
“And one of them was the bus driver,” one said.
Ironically, despite that win in 1999, a runner-up spot in 2011 and a victory in 2015, U.S. Soccer (the governing body) paid the men’s team $5.375 million for making round of 16 in 2014, while the women’s team got $1.725 million for its 2015 victory. Players trying out for the men’s team made more than three times as much as women trying out for their team.
Back in 2016, U.S. Soccer justified paying the men more because it claimed the men brought in more revenue from 2014-17, according to a Sports Illustrated article, though evidence brought by the women’s legal team showed the disparity was much closer than U.S. Soccer claimed in that same article.
Yet evidence now shows the U.S. women’s team is now bringing in more revenue since that study, according to the Wall Street Journal. Yet U.S. Soccer refuses to reform, even though this governing body used the exact same argument to justify earlier pay disparities.
I’m just as much of a fan of the USMNT and cheer them as much as the USWNT. This men’s team is not the problem. It’s our soccer governing body, which is calling the shots. We’ve seen corruption among its leadership and a muted response to the FIFA scandals. American athletes are the best and we have great coaches. But our governing boards need major reform, just like U.S. Gymnastics with its Dr. Larry Nassar scandal as well.
Critics of the USWNT have tried to accuse it of being anti-American because of its celebration, though video evidence and other statements contradict those claims. Let’s get rid of this fake news attack on the USWNT team, celebrate its win, use the same formula U.S. Soccer used to use based on revenue and shake up our governing boards in sports. With such reforms of our institutions, I bet we’ll see the USMNT earn even more revenue and a World Cup title in the future as well.