How U.S. Soccer's Other Presidential Candidates Would Handle Equal Pay Fight

Grant Wahl
Sports Illustrated

The gender-discrimination lawsuit filed by the U.S. women’s national team against U.S. Soccer now has a trial date—May 5, 2020—that was set this week after mediation talks between the two sides broke down a week ago.

The rhetoric between the USWNT players and the federation is as heated as ever, and I’m told the players were so disappointed in U.S. Soccer president Carlos Cordeiro’s adversarial stance that they called him out by name in their statement last week.

Given that last year Cordeiro won the most competitive presidential campaign in U.S. Soccer history—with the key vote in his favor provided by the Athlete Council—it seemed like an appropriate time to ask the other candidates in that election a question: How would you have handled the WNT pay situation had you been elected?

All seven of those candidates responded, and four of them issued statements to Kathy Carter, Kyle Martino, Hope Solo (who currently has her own lawsuit against U.S. Soccer) and Mike Winograd. Eric Wynalda said he had no comment; Paul Caligiuri said he didn’t have enough specific details required to answer the question; and Steve Gans said he was too occupied with his current work on the USL CBA negotiations to respond right now.

The former candidates were asked to provide statements of 250 or fewer words. Intriguingly, not one of them said they would approach the USWNT pay situation the way Cordeiro has. Here are their responses (presented in the order of voting percentage received in the election):


I believe the USWNT players should be paid equally, period. But this is about more than pay. The USWNT players also deserve equal respect, equal treatment in terms of technical support, investment throughout the program (including girls’ youth development), and greater support for the long-term growth and stability of the National Women’s Soccer League.

I made these views and my commitment to growing the women’s game the cornerstone of my bid to lead the U.S. Soccer Federation, and my commitment to these principles is unchanged. The future of women in sport is brighter today than ever before, both on the field and in our industry, but progress continues to come too slowly and in increments that are too small. Today, as CEO of the commercial venture between the U.S. Olympic and Paralympic Committee and LA 2028 and as LA 2028’s Chief Revenue Officer, I view the involvement, advancement and fair treatment of women in the Olympic and Paralympic movement central to my work and mission. I am proud to partner with women at the top of their games in business and sport and am constantly looking to expand opportunities and equalize treatment.

The USWNT players are true role models—for girls, boys, women and men. Their leadership on equality is inspirational. Kudos to them for demanding excellence, accountability and equality on the field and off it.


Equality was one of three tenets of my campaign, so this situation is of great consequence to me. I don’t need to say much about what I would have done had I won, because I expressed it emphatically and comprehensively in my Progress Plan. The two-day summit I held in New York before the election with members of our soccer community—including legendary players, supporters group leaders, state administrators and other stakeholders—was demonstrative of how I aimed to lead. That level of collaboration between a diverse group of informed soccer minds—to design and execute a strategy to assuage the gender discrimination our reigning world champion women are facing—is absent within the federation.

My personal belief is our women should be paid the same as our men when they put on that beautiful jersey. Under the law, equality isn’t defined that way, but I believe we have a responsibility to be a world leader in gender equality. Our USWNT never settles for “good enough,” and our federation shouldn’t either. I will always bring my personal beliefs to any job I’m doing. Strong leaders combine their principles with the views and ideas of the smart/capable people they surround themselves with to make informed decisions. As U.S. Soccer president, I would have created the organizational structure and atmosphere necessary to earn back the trust of our USWNT players by showing them our combined vision for a more equitable game.


As president, I would have stopped U.S. Soccer’s continuing violation of the federal Equal Pay Act and Title VII wage discrimination within the first 90 days of my term. I would have torn up the existing CBA, an agreement that I believe violates both the Equal Pay Act and Title VII, and one the current players never should have signed. While touting “progress,” both the players and USSF know this agreement was reached under the same fear, intimidation and stonewalling tactics the federation has employed with the women’s team since Day 1.

Next—unlike Carlos Cordeiro, who directly acknowledged the need to “do better” on the equal pay issue to me on election day—I’d have gotten the players back to the bargaining table immediately. I would have presented a plan that equalized the pay structures, which, despite U.S. Soccer’s assertions, are not that complicated. It would ensure equal pay and equal treatment of our men’s and women’s teams across the board. I would have also initiated a full audit on the USSF/Soccer United Marketing financials to determine and disclose the real revenue and marketing value of the USWNT, something the federation has not done. Then I’d move on and focus on a plan to continue our dominance and stay ahead of a global field that is quickly catching up to us.

(EDITOR'S NOTE: U.S. Soccer denies that it has violated the Equal Pay Act and Title VII, which are the subjects of current lawsuits by Solo and the USWNT players.)


Women’s soccer must be treated equally. Full stop. That was one of the three pillars of my campaign a year and a half ago. As I said then, on Day 1, I would have reached out to the women’s team and ensured they were treated equally in all respects. Sports Illustrated has asked specifically about pay. If the women’s team wanted the same structure as the men’s team, their pay would have been equal. If they wanted a different structure, their pay would have been equivalent under that structure. At its core, my starting point would have been to determine the target budget for national team player compensation, and then apply the same principles to allocate that compensation amongst players, regardless of gender.

I have not been privy to the parties’ currently stalled (and surely complex) mediation discussions, nor do I have access to the same information or details as those closest to situation. But as a general principle, forcing the USWNT to accept lower pay is unacceptable and contrary to the mission of U.S. Soccer, a not-for-profit organization. And as a practical matter, the total budgetary increase necessary to provide equal pay would be a small fraction of U.S. Soccer’s nine-digit annual revenue. The USWNT has given our nation so much for so many years. They should already have the equality to which they have always been entitled.

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