The No. 1-ranked U.S. women’s national team is in France as you read this, crashing through every other World Cup team in their path. Through the first three games they have scored an almost absurd 18 points while allowing their opponents nil.
The odds makers have them at 2:1 to win their record-fourth World Cup since the inception of the women’s tournament in 1991. Next year, most of the same women will compete for the U.S. on the Olympic soccer team in an effort to win their fifth gold medal in what will be the seventh Olympics held since the sport was first contested in 1996.
In recognition of our women’s unparalleled athletic success, the national governing body of the sport, U.S. Soccer, will continue to treat our team like second-class citizens, denying them the very rights that fair employment practices in other jobs have made law.
The U.S. women’s team blasted into America’s consciousness in 1999 when they won the World Cup in overtime in the Rose Bowl. That game was played in front of over 90,000 delirious fans, and in the process accomplished the heretofore unimaginable feat of making the cover of all four new weekly magazines: Time, Newsweek, People and Sports Illustrated. At the same time.
Sadly, the U.S. men’s team has suffered through a series of truly abysmal efforts that culminated in a loss in 2017 to Trinidad and Tobago that knocked them out of last year’s World Cup. For perspective, Trinidad and Tobago are two small islands with a combined population of just under 1.4 million, or about 42% that of the Twin Cities.
They should have been able to beat this opponent with 11 players named Larry — but they didn’t. At the moment the U.S. men rank, No. 30 in the world, right behind Northern Ireland and Japan. On the plus side, they are five slots ahead of that ever-present threat to soccer domination — Iceland.
Athletes are paid to win — no surprise there — that’s why they keep score. According to a recent article in the New York Times, if the women’s team wins all 20 of the friendly games they have to play each year their base salary ($72,000) plus their bonus for winning ($99,000) totals $171,000 each. If the men’s team loses all 20 of their matches their base pay ($100,000) plus their bonus ($100,000) totals $200,000 each. I know, I had to read it three times myself to believe it!
You could argue that the U.S. men’s team is a bigger draw, but if you did you’d be wrong. In the last three years, the U.S. women’s team has generated $50.8 million in revenue, while the men brought in $49.9 million, according to a recent story in the Wall Street Journal.
You might think that through all this the folks running U.S. Soccer would surely pay the women’s team fairly if they only had the budget. At the moment, U.S. Soccer is sitting on a $150 million surplus. Yep, the money’s there.
When you look at where the U.S. women’s soccer team could be if given a little marketing nudge, you really see what potential is being missed. According to a poll by Topend Sports, the most popular sport in the Winter Olympics is figure skating, while in the Summer Olympics it’s gymnastics. No real surprise here, these sports dominate the Olympic’s television programming. While the poll doesn’t differentiate between the men’s and women’s teams, common sense, and the mere mention of Simone Biles’ name, would be enough to make you realize that tens of millions of Americans love watching women compete, and yes, sometimes, even more than men.
I’m not optimistic that fairness will ultimately prevail. The last major wage dispute was in 2000 and resulted in a three-month player strike. At that time, the women’s team was also fighting for equal pay with the men. Sports Illustrated, in a February 2000 article on the subject, referred to U.S. Soccer as a “federation of dunces.” To me, they’re just a group of old, white men dragging soccer and our country inexorably down. As an old, white man myself, I find that reprehensible.
Rod Taylor lives in Minnetrista. He coached girls soccer for 14 years and won his league’s championship cup in Cincinnati in 1996 and 1997. He won the 2017 Holiday Memories Essay Contest with the essay “Going Home.”