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U.S. Soccer Apologizes for Arguing Women Don’t Deserve Equal Pay Because of Their Inherent Inferiority

Gee, great.

Megan Rapinoe on the soccer field with a soccer ball in the foreground.

Update 3/13: The President of U.S. Soccer, Carlos Cordeiro has stepped down.


In the ongoing lawsuit between the US Soccer Federation and the US Women’s National Team, the USSF was never going to come out looking especially good. Their job (as they’ve decided it for themselves) has been to try to argue that women deserve to be paid less than male athletes. They even hired lobbyists to argue that point instead of using that money to, you know, pay women. Their position was never going to be a great one.

But in a new set of filings, the USSF hit a new low by straight-up arguing that female athletes are inherently inferior to men.

The USSF is arguing that men and women “do not perform equal work requiring equal skill, effort, and responsibility under similar working conditions.” A male athlete’s job, they say, “requires a higher level of skill based on speed and strength” than the job of a female athlete.

That argument rests on setting male soccer as the default sport, with the implication being that female athletes aren’t skilled enough to play in the men’s league, making the USWNT essentially Soccer Lite. The USSF believes biological differences between men and women are “indisputable science” and that that science is grounds to pay women less. It’s complete BS.

This argument ignores a lot of important elements, like the fact that speed and strength are not the only skills that make a great soccer player, or that while men and women players perform essentially the same job, it’s completely pointless to judge them against each other rather than within their specific arenas. As USWNT player Alex Morgan told the federation’s lawyers, the women’s team doesn’t have less skill, but “a different skill.”

The USSF also argues that “[the] job of a men’s national team player carries more responsibility than that of a women’s national team player.” Given that the women’s national team is currently ranked #1 in the world while the men’s team … well let’s just say they’re not, this argument is especially flimsy.

Another terrible point made by the USSF: The men should be paid more because they sometimes face “hostility of fans at home crowds” in a way the women don’t. First of all, the women’s team was harassed by the President of the United States so I don’t know why this is a comparison the federation wants to be bringing up. But also, it sounds like that “hostility” comes from other teams’ fans who dominate the crowd because the U.S. men’s team doesn’t draw enough of their own supporters. So sure, let’s pay them more for that!

So what sort of “responsibility” is it that the men are disproportionately carrying? The responsibility to attract fans and generate revenue? The responsibility of playing at the top of their field on a world stage? Because the women are doing that. Just this week, in fact, they signed a multi-year deal with Amazon/Twitch and CBS Sports.

Wednesday night, the USSF issued an apology for the language used in the filings.

“On behalf of U.S. Soccer, I sincerely apologize for the offense and pain caused by language in this week’s court filing, which did not reflect the values of our Federation or our tremendous admiration of our Women’s National Team,” read a statement from U.S. Soccer President Carlos Cordeiro. “Our WNT players are incredibly talented and work tirelessly, as they have demonstrated time and again from their Olympic Gold medals to their World Cup titles.”

The statement came just a few hours after Coca-Cola, a USSF sponsor, called the filing “unacceptable and offensive.” A coincidence, I’m sure.

During Wednesday night’s match between the U.S. and Japan (which the USWNT won, by the way), the commentators discussed the lawsuit almost as much as they did the game, and while the lawsuit is incredibly important and should be talked about, it’s also really disheartening that this issue has to infringe on the sport itself when all these women want to do is play soccer and get compensated fairly for it.

Following that game, Megan Rapinoe addressed the suit and the assertions made by the federation:

We have felt that those are some of the undercurrent feelings that they have had for a long time but to see that as the argument, as blatant misogyny and sexism as the argument against us, is really disappointing. But I just want to say it’s all false. To every girl out there, to every boy out there, who watches this team, who wants to be on this team or just wants to live their dream out, you are not lesser just because you are a girl, you are not better just because you’re a boy. We are all created equal and should all have the equal opportunity to go out and pursue our dreams and for us, that means playing on the soccer field.

So everything that was in that deposition, of what they said in the argument, is just not true. Don’t ever believe that.

(image: Mike Stobe/Getty Images)

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Vivian Kane (she/her) is the Senior News Editor at The Mary Sue, where she's been writing about politics and entertainment (and all the ways in which the two overlap) since the dark days of late 2016. Born in San Francisco and radicalized in Los Angeles, she now lives in Kansas City, Missouri, where she gets to put her MFA to use covering the local theatre scene. She is the co-owner of The Pitch, Kansas City’s alt news and culture magazine, alongside her husband, Brock Wilbur, with whom she also shares many cats.