[guest post by JVW]
I figured I should comment on the most recent, and perhaps final, development in the matter of the United States Women National Soccer Team (USWNT) and United States Soccer (USS) which we have discussed first in 2019 and then updated the following year. Please refer back to those posts for an overview of the issues, as I am too pressed for time right now to recap.
This past week, the sides settled their dispute with USS agreeing to pay $24 million to the USWNT, with 11/12 of that sum going as back-wages to players and the remaining $2 million set aside for a fund which players can tap for post-career initiatives or for charitable purposes. The settlement is contingent upon USWNT agreeing to a new collective bargaining agreement which is expected to happen within the next few months. USS also has committed to providing equal pay to both the women’s and men’s team going forward, including player bonuses which are paid by USS for participation in tournaments such as the quadrennial World Cup. (Presumably this commitment does not encompass prize money paid to players by FIFA, world soccer’s governing body, seeing as how the men’s World Cup revenue is nearly fifty times larger than the women’s World Cup revenue.)
This is being seen as a win for the USWNT, and rightfully so. Coming off of yet another World Cup title (if, to be sure, coupled with yet another underwhelming Olympics performance), the women not only are receiving the back-pay they had been fighting for, but they are also forcing USS to admit in deed if not in fact that the former collective bargaining agreement — which the USWNT’s represented had agreed to back in 2017 — was unfair. This argument had been rejected by U.S. District Court Judge R. Gary Klausner almost two years ago. Yet USS decided to give in and settle anyway, and even though the national governing body insists this is a justifiable compromise (the $24 million settlement is indeed far less than the $67 million the USWNT had originally demanded), there is no way that ever-woke sports media wasn’t going to spin this as an acknowledgement that the women were unfairly paid in relation to the men, even though neither Judge Klausner nor I was convinced of that fact. Yes, USS gets this distraction off of their daily agenda, and they say that this will save them an estimated $9 million in legal fees going forward (being a sports labor lawyer must be a ka-ching! profession), so I suppose it is entirely up to them and their legal counsel to determine whether or not this step makes sense.
Not everyone is pleased with the result, though. Former USWNT goalie Hope Solo, who was one of the first players to sue for higher pay (and a separate suit she has against USWNT is still in the court system), believes that the settlement’s dependence upon CBA ratification is actually a trap and could cause the women’s player association to settle for a lesser deal in order to unlock the back wages. An article in The Athletic (restricted to subscribers) points out that in order to align their CBA with that of the men’s team, the men’s player association is going to have to cooperate, and the fellas will certainly have their own opinions on what “equity” entails.
But let’s tip our caps to the women’s team who played their match in the Court of Public Opinion far better than they played it in United States District Court.