Blythe Hastings ’23
For six years, the members of the World Cup-winning United States women’s soccer team fought for equitable treatment of female players. They argued about whether they deserved the same charter flights as their male counterparts and about the definition of what constituted equal pay. But the long fight that set key members of the women’s team against their bosses at U.S. Soccer ended on Tuesday with a settlement that included a multimillion-dollar payment to the players and a promise by their federation to equalize pay between the men’s and women’s national teams.
Under the terms of the agreement, the women, a group of several dozen current and former players that includes some of the world’s best athletes, will share $24 million in payments from U.S. Soccer. The bulk of that figure is back pay, a tacit admission that compensation for the men’s and women’s teams had been unequal for years. Even more notable is U.S. Soccer’s pledge to equalize pay between the men’s and women’s national teams in all competitions, including the World Cup, in the teams’ next collective bargaining agreements.
If it is closed by the federation in negotiations with both teams, the change could funnel millions of dollars to a new generation of women’s national team players. “It wasn’t an easy process to get to this point for sure,” Cindy Parlow Cone, U.S. Soccer’s president, said in a telephone interview. “The most important thing here is that we are moving forward, and we are moving forward together. The players’ long battle with U.S. Soccer, which is not only their employer but also the sport’s national governing body, had thrust them to the forefront of a broader fight for equality in women’s sports and drawn the support of fellow athletes, celebrities, politicians and presidential candidates.
In recent years, players, teams and even athletes in other sports including ice hockey Olympic gold medalists, Canadian soccer stars, and W.N.B.A players had reached out to the American soccer players and their union for help as they sought better pay and working conditions. Many of those players and teams won major gains. For example, Norway, Australia, and the Netherlands are among the countries whose soccer federations have committed to closing the pay gap between men and women. “I think it was just extremely motivating to see organizations and employers admit their wrongdoing, and us forcing their hand in making it right,” said Alex Morgan, popular striker and former co-captain of the women’s national team.
“The domino effect that we helped kick-start — I think we’re really proud of it.” For U.S. Soccer, the settlement is an expensive end to a conflict that had battered its reputation, damaged its ties with sponsors and soured its relationship with some of its most popular stars, including Morgan, Megan Rapinoe and Carli Lloyd, who retired last year. U.S. Soccer was under no obligation to settle with the women’s team; a federal judge in 2020 had dismissed the players’ equal pay arguments, stripping them of nearly all of their legal leverage, and the players’ appeal was not certain to succeed.
Yet for that reason, the settlement represents an unexpected victory for the players. Nearly two years after losing in court, they were able to extract not only an eight-figure settlement but also a commitment from the federation to enact the very reforms the judge had rejected. “What we set out to do,” Morgan said in a telephone interview, “was to have acknowledgment of discrimination from U.S. Soccer, and we received that through back pay in the settlement. We set out to have fair and equal treatment in working conditions, and we got that through the working conditions settlement. And we set out to have equal pay moving forward for us and the men’s team through U.S. Soccer, and we achieved that.”