Will sponsor pressure change U.S. Soccer’s sexist argument against USWNT equal pay?

ORLANDO, FL - MARCH 05: Carli Lloyd #10 of the United States during a game between England and USWNT at Exploria Stadium on March 05, 2020 in Orlando, Florida. (Photo by Brad Smith/ISI Photos/Getty Images)
ORLANDO, FL - MARCH 05: Carli Lloyd #10 of the United States during a game between England and USWNT at Exploria Stadium on March 05, 2020 in Orlando, Florida. (Photo by Brad Smith/ISI Photos/Getty Images) /

U.S. Soccer is facing backlash after arguing that the USWNT does not deserve equal pay because their jobs are less demanding and require less skill.

On Monday, the U.S. Soccer Federation filed court documents that argue that the federation does not discriminate against the U.S. women’s national team on the basis of gender because female athletes like the USWNT are less skilled and their jobs are less demanding than their male counterparts.

In an attempt to show that U.S. Soccer is not sexist for paying the women’s national team members less than the men’s national team members, the federation’s lawyers chose the most sexist argument that they could make, pointing to differences in biology as proof that men’s soccer “requires a higher level of skill” than women’s soccer.

“The overall soccer-playing ability required to compete at the senior men’s national team level is materially influenced by the level of certain physical attributes, such as speed and strength,” one section of the filing argues. Another section adds, “The point is that the job of MNT player (competing against senior men’s national teams) requires a higher level of skill based on speed and strength than does the job of WNT player (competing against senior women’s national teams).”

The irony of the federation relying on a sexist argument to prove they are not sexist has not been lost on the court of public opinion. U.S. Soccer has faced a scathing backlash from fans, players, and even sponsors.

Coca-Cola blasted U.S. Soccer and demanded a meeting to express their concerns. “The Coca-Cola Company is firm in its commitment to gender equality, fairness and women’s empowerment in the United States and around the world and we expect the same from our partners,” the statement reads in part. Their attack brought praise from current and former USWNT players.

Volkswagen declined to comment on the court filings directly, but reaffirmed its commitment to gender equality. Privately, a Volkswagen spokesperson in Germany told Buzzfeed News, “I myself can hardly believe that these quotes were made or meant that way.”

UPDATE: Other major sponsors Visa, Deloitte and Budweiser have also told Buzzfed News they disagree with the federation’s position.

It’s clear that U.S. Soccer is losing the battle of public opinion. The USWNT is seeking $67 million in damages in this lawsuit, but one has to wonder how much more money U.S. Soccer will be losing if they push away sponsors like Coca-Cola. Condemnation from these corporations isn’t a guarantee that U.S. Soccer will listen, but it will certainly get their attention.

U.S. Soccer also must consider how offensive this line of thinking is to women and girls around the world. And while their relationship with their sponsors is likely repairable, the U.S. Soccer federation will have to work much harder to repair their relationship with female fans and players. In an attempt to win a lawsuit, they validated and emboldened a dangerous line of thinking that harms female athletes of all sports around the world. After something like this, how can anyone believe they have the best interests of these players and fans at heart?

UPDATE: In the final moments of Wednesday night’s SheBelives Cup match, U.S. Soccer president Carlos Cordeiro released a statement apologizing for “the offense and pain caused by language in this week’s court filing.”

The USWNT filed their equal pay lawsuit against U.S. Soccer in March 2019. The case is expected to go to trial in May.

The USWNT have qualified for the 2020 Olympics, hoping to become the first team to win an Olympic title in the year after winning a World Cup.

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