U.S. Soccer lobbyists' arguments against USWNT don't tell the whole story

NEW YORK, NY - JULY 10: (L-R) United States Soccer Federation president Carlos Cordeiro, Megan Rapinoe, Ashlyn Harris, Alex Morgan and Allie Long celebrate while riding on a float during The U.S. Women's National Soccer Team Victory Parade and City Hall Ceremony down the Canyon of Heroes on July 10, 2019 in New York City. The team defeated the Netherlands 2-0 Sunday in France to win the 2019 WomenÕs World Cup. (Photo by Debra L Rothenberg/WireImage)
U.S. Soccer has hired two lobbying firms to argue the USWNT hasn't been underpaid, but the claims need context and explanation. (Getty)

In a move that is sure to ratchet up tension between the United States women's national team and its employer, the U.S. Soccer Federation has hired lobbyists to essentially discredit ongoing concerns raised by the players.

A slideshow presentation given to lawmakers by U.S. Soccer's lobbyists, first reported Wednesday by Politico, piggybacks on a letter that U.S. Soccer president Carlos Cordeiro issued to the media last week claiming the women are actually paid more than the men. But again, it's missing some crucial context and will hardly settle the debate.

While U.S. Soccer and its lobbyists raise some valid points as the federation is under pressure from Congress, their presentation also oversimplifies and misrepresents others, which is sure to only anger the USWNT as both sides are supposedly working toward mediation of the wage discrimination lawsuit the players filed earlier this year.

This sharp change in tone from U.S. Soccer in response to the “equal pay” motto that has been spreading since the Women's World Cup is hardly surprising – the federation was getting crushed in the public discourse.

In many cases, the claims levied against U.S. Soccer have been outright false, and the federation has been very unfairly painted as a misogynistic organization. After all, U.S. Soccer has invested more in its women's team than any other country in the world, and it has the trophies and prestige to go along with it.

But this new, more combative approach from U.S. Soccer is a bit dissonant as the federation has said it wants to take the USWNT's lawsuit to mediation.

If U.S. Soccer believes the women are compensated better than the men, as they've laid out, it raises the question as to why the federation would agree to mediation at all – wouldn't they easily win in court? U.S. Soccer doesn't necessarily do itself any favors with the USWNT for the way it has presented some of the relevant information in this new public campaign.

Here is a breakdown of the slideshow presentation's chart obtained by Politico, with some important context that U.S. Soccer left out:

Claim 1: The base compensation model

(U.S. Soccer/Politico)
(U.S. Soccer/Politico)

While it is true that salaries are made available to the women while the men do not get salaries, it's not that simple.

First, what U.S. Soccer's lobbyists decline to state is that not all the women are entitled to salaries. In the team's current CBA – which is not public but details have been reported elsewhere – only 18 players are guaranteed $100,000 salaries. That number will drop every year. The rest of players in the USWNT pool are only compensated through game appearance fees.

Second, there is guaranteed compensation available to the men. It just comes in the form of appearance fees rather than salaries. While it is not guaranteed to any specific man because players need to earn call-ups to receive the compensation, there is a set amount of money the federation is giving to the men's team as a whole, just as is the case with the women's team.

Claim 2: NWSL salaries

(U.S. Soccer/Politico)
(U.S. Soccer/Politico)

The federation's lobbyists raise the salaries that USWNT players earn for playing in the National Women's Soccer League as part of a comparison against the men's team.

Twenty-two women do earn between $67,500 and $72,500 per year to play for their NWSL clubs, and that is money the federation has invested in the players. But it is also a separate job and not directly part of a USWNT player's national team duties. Wouldn't anyone be entitled to more compensation if they worked a second job for an employer?

While U.S. Soccer is right to point out its investment in the NWSL, which has been important for advancing women's soccer, it may not be apples-to-apples for U.S. Soccer to use those dollars amounts in discussing compensation for national team duties.

Additionally, the federation points out that it does not offer compensation for USMNT players for competing in Major League Soccer. That's true, but worthy of context.

First, U.S. Soccer's mission is to grow the sport of soccer in the United States, and the infrastructure in women's soccer has lagged, in part, because soccer was banned in many countries around the world until the late 1970s. Historically, it has been more difficult for female players to earn a living from club soccer. The opportunities in men's soccer, however, are plentiful now so U.S. Soccer would not need to step in and ensure its male players can play professionally.

Second, it's not as if U.S. Soccer has never invested in MLS; when MLS was first founded, the federation helped it get off the ground. As John Langel, the former attorney for the USWNT alleged in a complaint to the U.S. Olympic Committee back in 2004, U.S. Soccer made a “commitment of $10 million to build soccer stadiums for a for-profit professional league for men, Major League Soccer.”

It makes sense that U.S. Soccer has done its part to grow domestic leagues for both its men's and women's teams over the years. But whether those numbers should be included as part of an apples-to-apples comparison on national team compensation is up for debate. U.S. Soccer uses NWSL salaries in its calculation to claim the women's national team is paid more than the men's team.

Claim 3: Guaranteed pay

(U.S. Soccer/Politico)
(U.S. Soccer/Politico)

What U.S. Soccer says here is accurate, but again, only 18 players in the USWNT pool are subject to the safety net of guaranteed salaries – not all USWNT players. The rest of the women in the pool are subject to the same pay-for-play model that the men have.

Furthermore, the non-contracted USWNT players are only paid $3,500 as a game appearance fee, according to the team's undisclosed CBA. Male players get game appearance fees of $5,000.

Claim 4: Friendly bonuses

(U.S. Soccer/Politico)
(U.S. Soccer/Politico)

Both the men and the women get bonuses for winning friendlies, as U.S. Soccer's presentation rightly states. But the men's bonuses are much higher than the bonuses the women get.

The women can earn up to $8,500 each for winning a friendly. The men, meanwhile, can earn up to $12,625 if they win, on top of their $5,000 appearance fee.

Obviously, these much larger bonuses for the men are likely offset, in comparison, by the guaranteed salaries that U.S. Soccer offers the women. The pie for each team has been sliced up in different ways, but just because both teams earn bonuses doesn't mean the bonuses themselves are the same.

Claim 5: Olympic bonuses

(U.S. Soccer/Politico)
(U.S. Soccer/Politico)

The senior women's team does get bonuses for playing in the Olympics that the senior men's team does not get, as stated. But there's a simple reason for it: The senior men's team doesn't play in the Olympics.

On the men's side, FIFA has designated the Olympics as a youth tournament because it didn't want the Olympics competing with the World Cup. But no such designation exists on the women's side.

While the Olympics is a tournament the women can earn bonuses from that the senior men cannot, it's not as if the men don't have their own unique tournaments they compete in. The CONCACAF Gold Cup, the Confederations Cup (if they qualify) and the Copa America (if invited) are some examples.

That said, the women have unique tournaments of their own on top of the Olympics. Their two primary annual tournaments, in fact, are hosted and operated by U.S. Soccer. The SheBelieves Cup and the Tournament of Nations were started in 2016 and 2017, respectively, to ensure the USWNT would have competitive games every year. The USWNT players can earn bonuses for winning each.

Claim 6: Injury protection

(U.S. Soccer/Politico)
(U.S. Soccer/Politico)

U.S. Soccer highlights the injury protection it offers to USWNT players in its presentation. But once again, this only applies to the 18 players under contract with the federation, not all USWNT players.

Furthermore, offering injury protection for the USMNT players probably wasn't high on the list for the men to ask for in their CBA. For most female players, their primary income comes from U.S. Soccer, but for the men who typically earn millions from their clubs, national team compensation is a proverbial drop in the bucket compared to club salaries, which they would receive while injured long-term in most leagues around the world.

Claim 7: Health insurance

(U.S. Soccer/Politico)
(U.S. Soccer/Politico)

U.S. Soccer takes credit for providing health insurance to its women's players, but this requires explanation.

While the women do get health insurance through U.S. Soccer, it actually comes from the U.S. Olympic Committee, for which the players are eligible as Olympic athletes. According to documents exclusively obtained by Yahoo, the federation only gives players $1,500 to offset the taxes the players have to pay on their coverage obtained through the USOC.

The USWNT's contract does state that if health insurance through the U.S. Olympic Committee becomes unavailable, then U.S. Soccer will provide it, but that hasn't been necessary.

Claim 8: Maternity leave

(U.S. Soccer/Politico)
(U.S. Soccer/Politico)

U.S. Soccer states that it provides maternity leave and a nanny subsidy for the women, but not the men. To state the obvious, women can have children and men cannot, so this is an interesting "benefit" for U.S. Soccer to point out.

While some states do require paternity leave be offered to male employees, the norm is generally that maternity leave is required for women.

Caitlin Murray is a contributor to Yahoo Sports and her book about the U.S. women’s national team, The National Team: The Inside Story of the Women Who Changed Soccer, is out now. Follow her on Twitter @caitlinmurr.

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