Why the USMNT's statement supporting the USWNT appears to be entirely self-serving

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The timing of the USMNT's statement in support of the USWNT's CBA negotiations is so conspicuous it's almost insulting. (Photo by Robin Alam/Icon Sportswire via Getty Images)
The timing of the USMNT's statement in support of the USWNT's CBA negotiations is so conspicuous it's almost insulting. (Photo by Robin Alam/Icon Sportswire via Getty Images)

Why now? Why is the United States men’s national team suddenly so invested in the women’s equal pay fight?

For almost four years, the USWNT has been in a very public fight for equal pay with the men’s national team. It fought in its collective bargaining agreement negotiations. And then it fought through a federal gender discrimination complaint that remains unresolved. It fought in a class-action lawsuit that should go to trial soon. And it took its battle to the court of public opinion, in a series of sitdown interviews by star players with major TV shows.

All the while, the men’s national team was virtually silent. 

There were no meaningful statements of support, no gestures, no tweets, no solidarity of any kind. The lack of backing for the women from their male counterparts was so conspicuous, in fact, that women’s players Ashlyn Harris and Ali Krieger called it out in the Power Plays newsletter.

When men’s players did weigh in, they often took the other side of the battle, or endorsed the women only reluctantly. And when Yahoo Sports asked several national teamers about the matter directly, Omar Gonzalez, DeAndre Yedlin and Jordan Morris all tepidly professed their support for the women to Doug McIntyre, before quickly changing the subject to the ongoing camp.

These were not convincing or ringing endorsements of the women’s cause.

Which is why it jarred when the United States National Soccer Team Players Association posted a lengthy statement on its website Wednesday throwing its weight squarely behind the women in the equal pay fight.

A long missive about the history of labor organization and disputes between the federation and both national teams finally got to the point when it declared: 

What we believe should happen is simple. Pay the women significantly more than our recently expired men’s deal. ... Now, the Federation is taking the frivolous position that the USMNT players’ compensation should also stay at those 2011-2018 numbers ... a desperate attempt to cover-up the fact that what they did to the women in 2017 [when the most recent women’s CBA was negotiated] is indefensible.

It is time for this to stop. The Courts, juries, the United States Olympic and Paralympic Committee, Congress, new Federation leadership, or a combination of all five need to reform the Federation. 

What can you do? Tell the Federation’s sponsors you will not support them until the Federation starts doing the right thing and gives the women a new CBA that pays a fair share of the gate receipts and that television and sponsorship revenue to the players. Write to your Congressional representatives and tell them it is time to reform the Federation. Let the Federation know that you do not believe the false narrative they are circulating. Support the players, not the Federation.

The timing is so cynical that it’s practically insulting. 

Yahoo Sports has learned that the men’s national team, whose collective bargaining agreement with U.S. Soccer expired at the end of 2018, has not responded to multiple CBA offers from the federation – the most recent one coming late last year. Negotiations have effectively stalled, insofar as they’ve begun at all.

The sudden interest in the women’s national team’s fight for more pay, then, appears to be entirely self-serving. If the women’s CBA, which runs through 2021, was somehow revised and upgraded, the men could piggyback on that deal to extract more money for their next agreement with U.S. Soccer. Because if the women make a breakthrough in their compensation, they open a gap for the men’s team to march through as well – they could make the same equal pay argument. 

It’s not hard to see this statement as a brazen attempt by the men to leverage the women’s years-long fight for what they believe to rightfully be theirs to move their own negotiations forward, to ratchet up the pressure on the federation. It looks for all the world like this isn’t altruism or solidarity, this isn’t labor sticking with labor, but the men sensing an opportunity to capitalize on the women’s struggle and their significant inroads with the public.

However you feel about the federation’s dealings with its women’s national team, the men suddenly opting in to the equal pay fight now that it might benefit them doesn’t exactly make them allies either.

Leander Schaerlaeckens is a Yahoo Sports soccer columnist and a sports communication lecturer at Marist College. Follow him on Twitter @LeanderAlphabet.

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