The U.S. Women’s National Team’s hunt for pay on par with their male counterparts, or at least a satisfactory improvement in their next collective bargaining agreement, keeps turning up in the headlines.
The reigning Women’s World Cup champions are unlikely to be assured of clear victory any time soon, thanks to the slow-moving nature of the legal and federal machinery that is processing the U.S. Soccer Federation’s lawsuit seeking to head off the USWNT players union’s right to strike this year, and the wage discrimination complaint recently filed with the Equal Employment Opportunity Commission by the players.
But the WNT are riding roughshod in the court of public opinion at present, an arena which offers them one of their strongest potential avenues of leverage.
First the players and their legal representatives rolled out the EEOC filing amidst a flawless public-relations campaign in late March. And since then the momentum has been sustained, by factors both within and without the team’s control. Last week Comedy Central’s iconic “The Daily Show” devoted nearly seven minutes of precious programming time to an in-depth skewering – titled “Due The Right Thing” – of the federation by host Trevor Noah.
“That whole argument, ‘oh, play for the love of the game,’ it’s such rubbish. It’s funny how it’s never applied for any other job,” said Noah, who colorfully compared USSF’s differing code for their respective senior squads to orgasms and seemed genuinely pained by the gender gap.
“And it’s not just the wages. There are points when it seems like US Soccer is going out of its way to be sexist. Take for instance, player per diem: When pro athletes travel, they get a daily allowance to spend on food and anything that they need. The U.S. men get $75, while the women get $60. Why? Just an extra $15 for the men? Why? It’s so unnecessary.
“At the end of the day, you pay women and men equally because it’s the right thing to do. Not only has the U.S. women’s soccer team proven that they’re the best in the world, they’ve made America feel like they’re the best in the world. I know you can’t put a price on winning and national pride, but maybe you should try.”
An eloquent, frank editorial summing up the team’s views written (or at least signed) by Carli Lloyd, the squad’s brightest star at present, was given prime placement in the New York Times on Sunday. And then on Tuesday, the USWNT got an overt endorsement from the highest bully pulpit in the land: President Barack Obama, speaking in support of fair-wage laws on the occasion of “Equal Pay Day.”
“Equal pay for equal work should be a fundamental principle of our economy,” said the Commander in Chief. “It’s the idea that whether you’re a high school teacher, a business executive or a professional soccer player or tennis player, your work should be equally valued and rewarded — whether you are a man or a woman. It’s a simple ideal. It’s a simple principle. … But it’s one where we still fall short.”
— The White House (@WhiteHouse) April 12, 2016
Not only that, the President later added, “We don’t want some of our best players on the sidelines,” perhaps an allusion to the USWNT’s recent statements that a boycott of the Olympic games this summer “on the table” should a CBA breakthrough prove elusive in the months ahead.
“We’re leaving every avenue open,” said steady defender and senior leader Becky Sauerbrunn.
In the oblique language of formal negotiations, such language is generally considered rather bold and strident. But when the most powerful political figure in the Western world speaks out in your defense just days later, it speaks volumes about your public credibility.
It will surely take months for this fight to be resolved. But right now, the players are winning.