Pride and pay for winners
As the U.S. National Women’s Soccer Team enjoyed the limelight of a New York City ticker-tape parade to celebrate their fourth World Cup victory, the crowd broke into a spontaneous chant of “Equal pay” as fans also did in France during the championship game. Despite the pay disparity with male soccer players, the celebration was full of joy, led by Megan Rapinoe, the tournament star who inspired millions of Americans who need something to cheer for these days.
How big is the pay difference between the men and women in the World Cup? Consider that the men’s teams took home $400 million during their last World Cup in 2018, while the women’s teams shared just $30 million this year. And that was double the prize money the women received in 2015 as Fédération Internationale de Football Association (FIFA) officials responded to the growing criticism of the obvious and huge pay gap. Even if the doubling of prize money continues every four years as some expect, it’s going to take until 2039 to achieve pay equity with the men, who will share $440 million at their next World Cup in 2022.
The women of soccer refuse to wait that long for what they’re due and have filed a class action lawsuit against FIFA, which has agreed to mediate a settlement now that the 2019 World Cup is over. A spokeswoman for the U.S. players summed up their position by telling reporters, “At this moment of tremendous pride for America, the sad equation remains all too clear, and Americans won’t stand for it anymore. These athletes generate more revenue and garner higher TV ratings but get paid less simply because they are women. It is time for the Federation to correct this disparity once and for all.”
A lawsuit is probably the best way to force the issue. But we also need to keep updating our laws to ensure that women are paid equally for their toil.
There is no doubt that the passage of Title IX, a follow-up to the federal Civil Rights Act of 1964, dramatically increased opportunities in education for female students, especially in sports. President Richard Nixon signed the law in 1972, and participation by women in high school sports increased nine-fold, while the number of women in college sports increased by 450 percent.
I graduated from high school in 1973 from a mid-coast California town—Pacific Grove—and remember well how limited the opportunities were for female athletes. The girls played club sports through the Girls Athletic Association, and our basketball team could only use the gym when the boys had an away game. Every other time we practiced in the cold foggy mornings outside where the asphalt was rocky and unforgiving.
A friend of mine was one of the school’s best golfers but couldn’t officially compete even though she routinely beat most of the boys on the team in area tournaments. When the boys were released from school to serve as caddies during the annual Bing Crosby Pro-Am tournament, her only option was to join the girls in our service contribution to this community event by making sandwiches for the players early each morning.
After Title IX was implemented all of that changed, and quickly too. Today it’s unthinkable—and illegal—for schools to only sponsor boys’ teams and relegate girls to the sidelines.
More recent legislative changes have had a much smaller impact, although the 2019 Nevada Legislature did pass new pay equity legislation to codify the federal Lilly Ledbetter Fair Pay Act into state law and establish a new tier of civil penalties for employers who are out of compliance.
We should all be rooting for the U.S. soccer women in their quest for equal pay. They’ve proven they’re the best—but even if they weren’t, they’d deserve it.