The U.S. Women’s National Soccer Team has won four World Cups. It’s won four Olympic gold medals, too. The team has filled stadiums, broken viewing records and sold out of jerseys ― all metrics by which a popular sports team is judged successful.
And yet, the team’s players are still paid less than their male counterparts.
Megan Rapinoe, a star of the women’s team, told lawmakers on Wednesday that there’s a pretty simple reason why.
“What we’ve learned and what we continue to learn is that there is no level of status, accomplishments, or power that will protect you from the clutches of inequity,” she said before the House Oversight and Reform Committee. “One cannot simply outperform inequality or be excellent enough to escape discrimination of any kind.”
Rapinoe, who testified during a hearing on equal pay and gender inequity, said her teammates have been fighting to make as much as players on the men’s national team for years, well before they filed a gender discrimination lawsuit against the U.S. Soccer Federation in 2019. They filed a complaint with the Equal Employment Opportunity Commission in 2016, alleging wage discrimination; the EEOC ruled that they had a right to sue. They tried to negotiate better pay with the U.S. Soccer Federation. That went nowhere.
“Time and time again, we were told, just simply, no,” she said. “The only thing that was going to be available was less — and far less, to be honest.”
The wildly popular team has been more successful and generates more revenue than the men’s team, but its members make an average of $30,000 less than male players, and earn smaller bonuses for making it to the World Cup.
Rapinoe said the team plans take legal action for as long it takes to get equal pay, and it will talk publicly talk about it because they see the issue as bigger than them. Millions of women in America don’t get paid as much as their male counterparts, she said, and they don’t have the same platform and media attention as the women’s soccer team. This fight is for all of them too, she said.
“I feel like, honestly, we’ve done everything,” Rapinoe said. “You want stadiums filled? We filled them. You want role models for your kids? For your boys and girls and little trans kids? We have that. You want us to be respectful? You want us to perform on the world stage? You want us to take the stars and stripes, the red, white and blue, across the entire globe and represent America in the best way possible? We’ve done all that.”
“There’s no reason why we’re underpaid for the exception of gender,” she said.
A federal judge tossed out part of the team’s lawsuit in May 2020, saying players did not have enough evidence to support their claim that they weren’t being paid equally by the U.S. Soccer Federation. But the lawsuit’s argument that the federation violated the players’ rights under the Civil Rights Act remains, and the team has vowed to keep fighting.
In December 2020, the U.S. Soccer Federation reached a settlement with the women’s team on work conditions, but not on pay.
You want stadiums filled? We filled them. You want role models for your kids? For your boys and girls and little trans kids? We have that. ... We've done all that."
During Wednesday’s hearing, Rep. Nancy Mace (R-S.C.) tried to ding Rapinoe and her team for agreeing to a collective bargaining agreement in 2017, only to later sue over it being inadequate.
“Your union that represented you all did such a bang up job, did so well, you had to sue later because the deal was so bad, it sounds like,” said Mace.
“We had to sue later because of gender discrimination,” Rapinoe replied.
The athlete said that while issues like salaries tend to get the most attention in discussions of equal pay in sports, the lack of investment in women’s versus men’s sports — whether in marketing, branding or ticket sales — is often ignored.
“We don’t really know the real potential of women’s sports,” she said. “What we know is how successful women’s sports have been in the face of discrimination, in the face of gender disparity, in the face of a lack of investment on virtually every single level in comparison to men.”
The men’s national soccer team has agreed. They issued a statement last year saying members of the women’s team should be paid triple what they currently earn, and accused soccer officials of perpetuating “a false narrative” about the women’s team’s gender discrimination lawsuit.
Rapinoe told lawmakers that there’s nothing stopping the U.S. Soccer Federation or other businesses from paying women equitably except the fact that they just don’t want to do it.
“We just have to want to,” she said. “So, as always, LFG.”