Q+A: #SheBelieves She Should Get Paid Fairly

Members of the U.S. Women’s National Team unveil the new Nike kit for this summer’s World Cup.
Image via Nike

On March 8 – International Women’s Day – the 28 members of the United States women’s soccer team filed a gender discrimination lawsuit against the United States Soccer Federation (USSF), their employer and the governing body of soccer in the U.S. The lawsuit comes three months before the team will defend its World Cup title in France.

Players, including some of the best-known female athletes in the world like Alex Morgan and Carli Lloyd, say the discrimination includes inequities in pay and working conditions.

Ellen J. Staurowsky, Ed.D., professor in the Sport Management program of the LeBow College of Business, spoke with Drexel News Blog about the implications of the lawsuit for women in sports and beyond.

How does the pay between players on the men’s and women’s national soccer teams compare?

Based on the different compensation structures in place for the national teams, a male soccer player stands to earn $263,320 for playing in 20 games over the span of a year while a female soccer player earns $99,000 for playing in the same number of games. In effect, on an annual basis, women soccer players representing the U.S. in international competition earn 38 percent of what their male counterparts on the U.S. men’s national team receive.

Per game, this translates into a difference of $8,216. This difference in pay scale reflected in the compensation extends to female and male players who seek to earn a spot on the national team. For male players who try out and make the team, they earned $55,000 in 2014 and $68,750 in 2018. In contrast, female soccer players were offered only $15,000 for making the USWNT between 2013 and 2016.

Notably, the women’s teams have often played more games than the men’s teams in any given year. As noted in the lawsuit, “… from 2015 through 2018, the WNT played nineteen more games than the MNT played over that same period of time.” In effect, during that three-year time period, members of the women’s national team played the equivalent of what would have been an additional calendar year for the men’s team.

Why does the lawsuit matter?

This lawsuit alleging systemic discrimination against female athletes matters for several reasons. 

First, it raises the question of what it takes for the work of female athletes in particular, and female employees more generally, to be recognized as being as valuable or more valuable than their male counterparts. In the case of the U.S. women’s soccer team, their performance is unmatched, not only in comparison to the U.S. men’s soccer team but to the vast majority of national soccer teams (men or women) around the globe. The team is currently the top ranked team in the world, a position it has held for the past 10 out of 11 years. U.S. women’s soccer has won three World Cup titles (1991, 1999, 2015); four Olympic gold medals (1996, 2004, 2008, 2012); and eight CONCACAF titles. As a result of its enduring excellence, the team has been honored three times with the U.S. Olympic Committee’s Team of the Year and as Sports Illustrated’s Athlete of the Year. 

Second, this lawsuit is a test of long-standing assertions routinely made by sport governing bodies and sport officials that female athletes are unworthy of equal pay because of market forces that value men’s sports more than women’s sports. Those blanket claims strain, however, in comparing the men’s team to the women’s teams on parameters of performance. The men have competed far longer on the world stage, appearing for the first time in World Cup competition in 1930, the year that marks the USMNT’s best performance with a third-place finish. While it can be argued that men’s soccer internationally is a more lucrative venture than women’s soccer (the contrast between a multi-billion enterprise compared to a multi-million enterprise), such a consideration does not take into account that the US men have been in the game much longer and have not had the kind of impact or success as the women have. In 2016, following the USWNT’s third World Cup win, money generated by them resulted in the USSF reporting a $17.7 million profit. 

Do you think the lawsuit is a part of larger system of inequity?

Yes, this lawsuit is a part of a larger system of inequity that women face in the workplace. Within the sport community, women in an array of job categories – coaches, administrators, athletic trainers, strength and conditioning specialists, athletes – have sought to close the wage gap as well as get relief from wrongful terminations triggered by the imposition of double standards. From iconic female athletes like Serena Williams to the U.S. women’s ice hockey team to individual female college coaches (University of Minnesota-Duluth women’s ice hockey coach Shannon Miller, most recently), women’s work in sports has historically been undervalued. In a 21st century analysis, as demonstrated in the USWNT lawsuit, the wage gap is what was seen pre-1950 in the United States. 

This lawsuit also demonstrates, however, that fair treatment in the workplace is a shared issue for women in general. The issues raised by these women soccer players are ones that have been raised by women actors, doctors, educators, lawyers, professors, and women in a myriad of other professions. 

What do you think will be the outcome of the case?

The USWNT are keenly aware of the leverage they have given the timing of this lawsuit. They are poised to take another run at a World Cup championship in the months ahead and the threat of a potential boycott or work stoppage might give the USSF incentive to resolve this case to ensure the U.S. women’s team continues its dominance on the world stage. Will this case lead to sweeping changes across the sport landscape? History would suggest that these kinds of cases will be necessary in the future. 

Media interested in an interview with Ellen Staurowsky, should contact Annie Korp at 215-571-4244 or amk522@drexel.edu.