U.S. Soccer may just win this equal pay lawsuit. The federation certainly has some high-priced lawyers that will build a strong case. When the dust settles and a ruling is made or an agreement is reached, U.S. Soccer may just come out on the winning end.
But, if the most recent turn in this issue is any indication of how this process is going to go, picking up the pieces from that victory will be no easy task.
U.S. Soccer made the latest move in the ongoing saga on Tuesday as documents were released in the lead up to the May 5 trial. The most recent move by U.S. Soccer was the most controversial yet in a lawsuit that has been filled with controversy from the very beginning.
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In the recent filling in federal court in Los Angeles, U.S. Soccer made their latest push in the equal pay lawsuit, as the U.S. women's national team seeks to be awarded $66 million in damages under the Equal Pay Act and the Civil Rights Act of 1964. The documents focused heavily on the idea of "equal work", with the federation claiming that the U.S. men's national team's job was measurably more difficult than their female counterparts.
The recent documents revealed U.S. Soccer's view that the two teams do not perform or provide “equal work requiring equal skill, effort and responsibility under similar working conditions.” The statement says that there is a difference in “overall soccer playing ability”, pointing to Carli Lloyd's prior statement that the USWNT could not compete with the USMNT on the field of play.
As a result of that admission from Lloyd, U.S. Soccer’s lead attorney, Brian Stolzenbach, said that the argument is not “a sexist stereotype”. Instead, it’s just “indisputable science" admitted by a top USWNT star.
“The point is that the job of MNT player (competing against senior men’s national teams) requires a higher level of skill based on speed and strength than does the job of WNT player (competing against senior women’s national teams)," the federation states.
A further passage reads: “MNT players routinely play matches (important World Cup qualifiers, in particular) throughout Mexico, Central America and the Caribbean. The WNT does not. Opposing fan hostility encountered in these MNT road environments, especially in Mexico and Central America, is unmatched by anything the WNT must face while trying to qualify for an important tournament. Even the hostility of fans at home crowds for the MNT in some friendlies can be unlike anything the WNT faces. This is all evidence of substantially different jobs under the EPA.”
The "hostility of fans in the home crowds"? That could stem from the team's 2018 World Cup failure. It could also represent the fact that the USWNT has found ways to unite their fans in ways that the men haven't in recent years.
By and large, though, U.S. Soccer has the science right. Men and women are, in fact, biologically different. Males tend to be bigger, faster and stronger than their female counterparts. In a head-to-head game, the USMNT would most certainly win.
Those facts aren't what the USWNT were fighting. They aren't looking to be the USMNT's equals on the pitch; they're looking for equality off it. They were pointing to their collective bargaining agreement, the disparity in prize money for women vs. men, and the different conditions that the two teams face.
The message sent was that, no matter how many trophies the USWNT win, no matter how good they are, no matter how much success they find on and off the field, they'll never be as important as the USMNT. Nothing they do matters. Science, not achievements, is key.
And that argument may just hold up in court. U.S. Soccer may just win this case and get to keep that money. They may set a precedent that allows them to keep the USWNT cost-controlled for a generation. In that way, this may go down as a victory.
But, if that does happen, it will come at the expense of alienating players and fans all over the country. It will come with what will go down as a public relations nightmare. It will be a victory that could impact the sport in this country forever.
Even with the USMNT's players association backing their USWNT counterparts, U.S. Soccer has taken this down a road that is not easy to come back from.
"FIFA prize money calculations can and will be debated," former USWNT defender Heather O'Reilly said in a tweet. "Commercial revs income can and will be debated. TV ratings and sponsorship can and will be debated. But to read that @ussoccer thinks this of the @USWNT and female athletes in general is disgusting and disturbing to me."
U.S. Soccer may just win this lawsuit. The USWNT will likely keep winning matches, trophies and tournaments. But, if this latest breakthrough is any indication, there will be no winners from this lawsuit when all is said and done.