The USWNT Gender Discrimination Law Suit: Looking at Both Sides of the Coin (Sort Of)

Written By Katya Gokhman on March 12, 2019 - Last Updated on March 13, 2019

Making major headlines this week, the U.S. Women’s National Team  (USWNT) has filed a lawsuit against the United States Soccer Federation (USSF) for gender discrimination. The suit argues that the USSF has refused to treat the USWNT equally with their male counterparts.

How much of this is true? As with most things, the truth sits somewhere in the middle.

Seeing Both Sides of a Complicated Issue

There has been an abundance of articles and deliberation on this suit. Many good points have been made from both sides. However, I wanted to provide a perspective from a female professional soccer player who does NOT play on the USWNT. In fact, I played for the sworn enemy – the Russian Women’s National team.

It provides me a unique perspective on the topic.

First, let’s try to be open minded and take a look at USSF’s perspective as to why they are NOT offering the same salaries or treatment (such as travel and accommodations) as they give the men.

FACT: The USWNT is getting paid significantly less by USSF.

ALSO A FACT: They do, as USSF mentioned, get benefits and security that the men do not.

ADDITIONALLY: The USSF single-handedly support the USWNT salaries in the NWSL pro-league while other players who do not play on the national team struggle for the scraps thrown at them by the clubs themselves. In essence, the USSF is not just paying for the players to play on the National team but they are also paying their club salaries as well, which is unheard of in the male soccer sphere in any country.

So yes, the pay structure is completely different for the women when compared to the men’s structure and, from that perspective, maybe it is a bit unfair to jump on USSF so aggressively and accuse them of gender discrimination.

And Issue of Equal Treatment, Not Just Pay

However, this is exactly why the Women’s National team is asking for “equitable” pay NOT necessarily “equal” pay. They know the structure is different and they’re not asking to be paid the exact same wages as their counterparts – they are asking to be paid FAIRLY and treated FAIRLY.

For example, the USMNT flies first or business class when traveling to international tournaments – the women fly in coach. An even more significant example, which was a big issue in the last women’s World Cup in Canada, is the fact that while the men always compete on grass fields in tournaments, the women compete on turf fields (aka fake grass). This may not seem like such a big deal but the amount of strain that turf causes on a player’s body versus grass is significant. Not only that, but the pace of the ball is completely different on turf compared to grass.

As a female who played professionally for the past 7 years, I can tell you plenty of ridiculous stories about the difference in treatment and pay between the women’s team and men’s team in the clubs I played for – surprisingly, some of the more outrageous things happening in one of the bigger and more well known European clubs. So from this perspective, I can tell you that many times the effort that we as females have to put in to be professional players is much more than our counterparts.  And I say this from all aspects – physical, mental, and, of course, financial.  Believe me when I say that almost all of us don’t play for the money.

A personal example was my past year with Anderlecht Dames, which is the professional female team of Belgian powerhouse Royal Sporting Club Anderlecht. RSC Anderlecht has a beautiful training facility that includes (aside from the fields) a gym, cafeteria, pool, rehab center, and player lounge. Oh and they’re sponsored by Audi, which meant almost every employee of the club got an Audi. Can anyone take a guess as to what the Women’s team was able to use and get? Let me just say one word – “nada.” That’s right, the 2017/2018 Belgian Women’s Super League champions were not allowed to use any of the facilities except one turf practice field and were DEFINITELY not given an Audi or any form of transportation.

That’s right, your girl right here was an avid user of the subway and bus system.

Did we get anything, you ask? We got a membership to a gym that was equivalent to an Anytime Fitness (except this one wasn’t even 24 hours, can you believe it?). What’s the irony in this? The club was willing to spend money to direct us to another gym rather than let us use the one they already had for free. But ok, fine, what about the Women’s Belgian National team? Well, sure, they’re definitely not treated badly. But let us, again, make an “equitable” comparison to the male counterparts. Samsung, one of the sponsors of the Belgian National team, gave out Samsung Galaxies to all the Belgian Men’s National team players last year. The women’s team, on the other hand, did not get any phones or accessories. But they did get something – a grocery store discount card by a grocery store that sponsored them (how fitting since…we’re females).

An Issue Across All Female Professional Sports

This is just the tip of the iceberg and I can go on with experiences that would make your jaw drop. And so, this battle that the USWNT is pursuing is a battle that all female soccer players (and female athletes) have to face. I can’t help but root for the USWNT and all they’re doing.  But looking back at my own personal experiences – if the USWNT get this win, that’s great! BUT…where does that leave the other 98% of female professional players that are not on the USWNT? Just looking at women’s soccer in the U.S. as a whole – getting to the national team (or an elite youth team) can be as much about politics as it is talent. I only say that because we have SO MUCH talent in the U.S.

When you are competing at that level, it’s not necessarily how good you are but who pushes you through.  I am not saying that is always the case but I have seen this happen way too many times.  And, of course, that’s true in any sport, male or female.  The difference, however, is that males who do not make the national team are still earning significantly higher salaries and still being treated significantly better than females in the same situation.

This is obviously a very complex problem. It extends past the playing field, but into the workforce too, where over-qualified women are also often underpaid and mistreated in many situations. This is not just a fight for female soccer players but a fight for all females. It’s a small step in a big fight and small steps do not always show the big picture right away. However, just like artists that use the technique of pointillism exemplify, when you congregate enough small dots – a bigger picture emerges. Just this past week on International Women’s day, Adidas announced that they would be giving equal performance bonus payouts to their Adidas male and female athletes on the winning World Cup teams. Kudos to Adidas for adding another small dot to the picture. Let’s hope others do the same.


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Katya Gokhman

Former Florida State University women's soccer player and 7 year professional soccer veteran who has devoted her life to soccer - from within as a player and, now, as a coach and opinionated writer (I try to be unbiased but sometimes I just can't help it).

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