Jeff Kassouf, writing for NBC Sports, says that when the U.S. women’s team drew a line in the Honolulu sand, refusing to play on an inferior artificial surface, their frustration was about much more than plastic turf.
The women, at last, were demanding that they be treated with the same respect, and have the same workplace opportunities, as the members of the U.S. men’s team.
As Rich Nichols, general counsel to the U.S. women’s team, put it, “The time has come to put the sport on a level playing field in all facets of the sport and in all facets of the business of the sport.”
Nichols isn’t precisely correct. The time for equality hasn’t arrived. It is long, long overdue.
The members of the U.S. women’s team aren’t just pretty TV stars with tanned legs and bright white smiles. They aren’t just walking ads for Nike and Gatorade and Visa and their other corporate sponsors. They aren’t just larger-than-life heroes to armies of adolescent girls in braces, pigtails and No. 13 T-shirts.
They are, first of all, professional athletes. Soccer is their career. Their employer, U.S. Soccer, has a duty to establish and uphold workplace standards, and to furnish the tools, equipment and support, that afford the national team a chance to succeed at the highest competitive levels.
And that duty applies equally to the women’s team and the men’s team.
At least that’s how it should work.
In practice, however, there are wide and obvious disparities between how the two U.S. national teams are treated.
Let’s start with pay. Women, with few exceptions, earn less than men — and not just on the soccer pitch, but in a vast array of jobs throughout American society.
As Laurie Anderson said in her 1990 song Beautiful Red Dress:
you know, for every dollar a man makes
a woman makes 63 cents.
now, fifty years ago that was 62 cents.
so, with that kind of luck, it’ll be the year 3,888 before we make a buck.
but hey, girl
By any measure, the gender gap in soccer is a chasm. In 2014, Abby Wambach was paid $190,000, according to a report by the American Association of University Women. Clint Dempsey, the captain of the U.S. men’s team, had annual earnings of $6.7 milion.
The U.S. women’s coach, Jill Ellis, signed a new contract after winning the World Cup. Terms have not been disclosed, but her original deal, with a base salary of $215,000, meant she was being paid less than tenth of the $2.5 million that Jurgen Klinsmann, the coach of the U.S. men’s team, receives.
Ellis won the World Cup. Her team is No. 1 in the world. Her lifetime record as the U.S. coach is 36-3-9, for a winning percentage of .844.
Klinsmann’s team has been a perennial underachiever. It’s ranked No. 32 in the world. For his $2.5 million a year, he’s managed to compile a record of 43-21-14. a winning percentage of .561.
For winning the World Cup this summer, the U.S. women’s team earned $2 million in prize money. The men’s German team got $35 million for winning the 2014 World Cup. The U.S. men’s team, which was eliminated in the first knockout round of the 2014 World Cup, got $8 million in prize money.
The disparity is as great, or greater, at the club level. Teams in the National Women’s Soccer League teams have a salary cap of $200,000. Major League Soccer teams each have a $3.1 million salary cap.
And so it goes.
Other than the gross inequities in pay, the selection of game venues is the realm in which the inferior treatment of the U.S. women’s team is most apparent.
After the cancellation of the game in Honolulu, U.S. Soccer’s president, Sunil Gulati, acknowledged that the federation, ignoring its own protocols, never bothered to inspect the field ahead of time.
He never explained how such an oversight had occurred. He just said he was really sorry.
“We had a series of mistakes involving this game,” he told The New York Times. “We screwed up. It won’t happen again.”
Perhaps Gulati can explain why the women’s team has been forced to play again and again on fake turf, while the men’s team never does so. Ever.
In 2015, more than half of the women’s games have been on plastic grass, despite players’ repeatedly stated concerns about the risk of injury, about bloody skin burns, and about how the artificial surface affects the bounce and roll of the ball.
How many men’s games were on fake turf?
Even when the two teams played in the same venue, the men got their way, and the women got whatever Gulati felt like giving them.
On Dec. 10, the U.S. women played Trinidad & Tobago at the Alamodome in San Antonio, a dumpy stadium with an artificial surface.
But when the U.S. men played there in April, Kassouf notes, real sod was laid over the turf.
“The women,” he writes, “were afforded no such consideration.”
Even after the well-publicized legal fight over to the use of artificial turf at this summer’s World Cup — a fight the women lost — U.S. Soccer had the gall to book eight of the 10 matches in Team USA’s Victory Tour in stadiums with artificial turf.
“That turf at Aloha Stadium likely wasn’t much worse than some of the other fields the U.S. women have played on this year,” Kassouf writes. Megan Rapinoe, he notes, “described picking bolts out of the turf on a recent stop on the Victory Tour.”
It’s not surprising that when they saw the awful field at Aloha Stadium, the U.S. women said, “Enough.”
What’s surprising is that they didn’t do it a lot sooner.