Just when you thought the world couldn’t get any more chaotic, the U.S. Soccer Federation made a misogynistic, ignorant statement about the U.S. Women's National Soccer Team.

By Megan Falk
March 12, 2020
Naomi Baker-FIFA/Getty

With coronavirus spreading rapidly throughout the U.S., cleaning supplies are going out of stock, companies are asking employees to work from home, and social distancing is becoming a real thing. If you’re looking for a distraction from the coronavirus chaos, the U.S. Soccer Federation's (USSF) statement on equal pay will replace your COVID-19-induced anxiety with unbridled rage.

Amid its ongoing gender discrimination lawsuit with the United States Women’s National Team (USWNT), the USSF argued in a new court filing that the job performed by male soccer players “requires a higher level of skill based on speed and strength” and “more responsibility” than that of female players. The attorneys for the Federation also claimed that it is not "a 'sexist stereotype' to recognize the different levels of speed and strength required for the two jobs." Rather, "it is indisputable 'science,'" the attorneys said.

The USSF "supported" those claims with a Duke University School of Law professor’s article on the physiological differences between men and women in areas like skeletal structure, muscle composition, and the ability to process carbohydrates. (Ahem, just putting this out there: Research has shown that women have better muscular endurance than men.)

This straight-from-the-1950s argument is the USSF's attempt to make the case that the women’s and men’s teams do not perform equal work, thus they do not have to be paid equally. (ICYMI, the USWNT's fight for equal pay goes all the way back to 2016.)

Unsurprisingly, the Federation's statements immediately led to protests and public outrage. Before the U.S. Soccer-organized SheBelieves Cup on Wednesday night, the USWNT walked on the field wearing their warm-up jerseys inside out, covering up the U.S. Soccer crest while still displaying the four stars representing the team’s World Cup victories.

Megan Rapinoe, the soccer star who scored six goals in the 2019 Women's World Cup and helped carry the team to its fourth victory, called out the USSF's low blow following her team’s triumph over Japan at the SheBelieves Cup: “To see that blatant misogyny and sexism as the argument used against us is really disappointing,” she said on ESPN News. Later, Rapinoe expanded on her comments, telling reporters, “I know that we’re in a contentious fight, but that crossed a line completely.”

Former soccer stars are showing their support—in an ever-so-sarcastic manner—on Twitter, too. Mia Hamm, aka the best women’s soccer player in history, tweeted, “Damn, imagine if @mPinoe had skills” alongside a video of Rapinoe scoring an unbelievable goal.

Molly Levinson, a spokesperson for the USWNT, addressed the USSF's court filing more bluntly: "This ridiculous 'argument' belongs in the Paleolithic Era. It sounds as if it has been made by a caveman,” she told CNN Sports. "Literally everyone in the world understands that an argument that male players 'have more responsibility' is just plain simple sexism and illustrates the very gender discrimination that caused us to file this lawsuit to begin with.” (Related: This Girl Was Disqualified from a Soccer Tournament for Looking Like a Boy)

Sponsors of the USSF are voicing their frustration, too. Coca-Cola, for instance, said in a statement to BuzzFeed News that the company is “extremely disappointed with the unacceptable and offensive comments made by U.S. Soccer.” A spokesperson for Deloitte (another sponsor of the Federation) weighed in as well, telling The Wall Street Journal, “While our support for the team is unwavering, we are deeply offended by the views expressed by the USSF.”

In response to the backlash, USSF president Carlos Cordeiro issued an apology on Wednesday for the “offense and pain caused by language in this week’s court filing.”

But claiming that female soccer players are biologically inferior and incapable of achieving the same strength and skill as their male counterparts isn't just "offensive." It's completely out of touch with reality and ignores the USWNT's insurmountable success. The women’s team has four FIFA Women’s World Cup wins and four Olympic medals under its belt, while the men’s team has yet to clinch a World Cup victory and didn’t even qualify for the 2018 tournament. After her second World Cup triumph in 2019, Rapinoe was named The Best FIFA Women’s Player, while Abby Wambach, Carli Lloyd, and Mia Hamm have each won FIFA’s Player of the Year award (make that twice for Hamm). Meanwhile, no member of the men’s team has earned an accolade from FIFA in its 29-year history of awarding players. (FYI, the USWNT players aren't the only female athletes fighting for equal pay.)

Lawyers for the USSF also claim that the USWNT players do not carry “equal responsibility” because the men’s team rakes in more revenue from broadcasting. Except, fun fact: Audited financial reports from the USSF show that, in the three years after the USWNT won the 2015 World Cup, U.S. women’s soccer games brought in more total revenue than U.S. men’s games, according to The Wall Street Journal.

Another bogus point made by the USSF in its recent court filing: The Federation's lawyers argued that over the last three years, viewership for the men’s games has been five times higher than the women’s matches—except they conveniently excluded matches in the Women’s World Cup (which had a record-breaking 1.12 billion viewers in 2019, BTW).

In a last-ditch effort to show that the women’s and men’s teams have “materially different jobs that cannot be compared under the [Equal Pay Act],” the USSF argued that the men’s team faces hostility from opposing fans, particularly in Mexico and Central America, that “is unmatched by anything the [USWNT] must face while trying to qualify for an important tournament. Even the hostility of fans at home crowds for the [Men's National Team] in some friendlies can be unlike anything the [USWNT] faces.” But uh, it looks like the USSF forgot all about the hostility and criticism the women’s team received when USWNT players openly celebrated all 13 goals they scored in their first 2019 World Cup match against Thailand.

Of course, even if the USWNT didn't win a single World Cup, brought in dismal numbers of TV viewers and revenue dollars, or faced zero hostility from fans, none of that would mean they don't deserve equal pay. Simply put, the Equal Pay Act requires employers to pay men and women equally for doing the same work—full stop.

With the court case scheduled to go to trial on May 5, it’s clear the USWNT players are going to approach it just like they would every one-off game and historic World Cup match: with everything they’ve got.

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