The U.S. men's soccer team is fed up with U.S. Soccer's sexism impacting them

How A Feminist Was Born

Hello, all! Happy Valentine’s Day. For the past few months, Power Plays has been the love of my life, and so I basically consider all of you my Valentines. I hope that’s okay with you.

Remember, at Power Plays, you’re getting a no-bullshit look at sexism in sports that you can’t get anywhere else. You can support this work by subscribing and sharing.


Today, we’re looking at the stunning letter the U.S. men’s national soccer team released on Thursday asking for the U.S. Soccer Federation to pay the women’s national team a whole lot more money.

Plus, there’s an amazing archival find that you’re going to have to read to believe.

Okay, let’s do this!

The background info you need to understand WTF is going on

I’m going to try to do this briefly, because it’s late on Friday, and I know everyone is ready to turn off their brains. (Or is that just me?)

So, the U.S. women (USWNT) signed a new collective bargaining agreement with the U.S. Soccer Federation (USSF) in 2017. It was a far less favorable deal than they had pushed for, and in 2019, the USWNT sued the USSF for gender discrimination.

(USMNT players headed to practice, via Getty.)

As the women have lobbied their #EqualPay campaign, their male counterparts have been relatively silent. Last November, USWNT stars Ashlyn Harris and Ali Krieger told Power Plays that they were very disappointed by the lack of support from USMNT players.

“How often do you see the men's national team saying, ‘You know what? That is fucked up. These are the best players in the world,” Harris said.

“Not one tweet,” Krieger added.

Well, there still aren’t a bevy of mden’s national team members individually taking USSF to task for not giving the women equal pay. However, this week, the USMNT Players Association did elaborate on the statement of support it gave last July by releasing a scathing 1,900-word statement asking for the USSF to pay the women a lot more money.

The statement ended, “Tell the Federation’s sponsors you will not support them until the Federation starts doing the right thing and gives the women a new CBA that pays a fair share of the gate receipts and that television and sponsorship revenue to the players.”

That is, unequivocally, an awesome message, and one that Power Plays officially supports. There should always be labor solidarity between men and women, and it is beneficial that this letter exists.

However, what I’m obsessed with how blatant the men are about their motives. You might be asking, “Why are they saying all of this now?” And, well, they don’t leave you guessing.

“Statement about the USWNT 2017-2021 CBA” aka “The birth of an ally”

The statement opens by explaining why the U.S. National Team Players Association (USNSTPA), the union for the men’s national team, usually conducts CBA negotiations behind closed doors. Because, you know, confidentiality! Then they address why they’re changing their tune today.

However, the Federation has been working very hard to sell a false narrative to the public and even to members of Congress. They have been using this false narrative as a weapon against current and former members of the United States Women’s National Team.

Yes, it gets interesting immediately! I love it! Call them out.

The statement goes on to do a good job explaining how national governing bodies (NGBs), including USSF, have “monopoly control” over which athletes will be allowed to represent in the country, and how they often abuse that power.

Then, we get some background on the history of labor negotiations between the USSF and the USMNT. Essentially, the USSF used to not pay athletes at all, and when they did start paying, they didn’t pay much. In 1995, the USMNT became the first U.S. national team in any sport to unionize. It wasn’t easy. They had to fight a legal battle just to be recognized by the USSF, and every CBA — the ones signed in 1997, 2001, 2005, and 2011 — were all very contentious negotiations.

The women’s team unionized a few years after the men did in the late ‘90s, and negotiated its CBAs separately from the men. That separation was not a favorable one for the women.

The US Women normally negotiated after the men. With our unions working together since 1999, the goal was always to secure for the women comparable gains in pay and working conditions. For more than 20 years, the Federation has resisted any concept of equal pay or basic economic fairness for the USWNT players. Historically, the Federation also refused to include in the women’s CBA the same provisions as the men’s with respect to air travel, hotels, etc. This is systematic gender discrimination that should have never happened.

This is the first big tell of the statement: The men have been aware for decades that USSF was discriminating against the women because of their gender. DECADES. But in the past, they didn’t care because the men negotiated their contract first.

Then in 2011, because of the financial crisis and the general state of the economy, the men signed what they considered to be a very federation-friendly CBA.

Given the Federation’s claimed fear of financial uncertainty in 2011, the USMNT players agreed that during the eight years of the new CBA (2011-2018), player compensation would only increase by 25%, a rate of just about 2.8% per year.

As it turns out, 2011-2018 were spectacular years of financial growth and prosperity for the Federation. While USMNT player compensation went up 25% over those eight years, the Federation’s revenues tripled.

Clearly, once that deal expired, the men were very eager to negotiate a much better CBA, given the new financial realities of the USSF.

However, this is where things get problematic for the men. The women didn’t negotiate a new contract immediately after the men did this time. The USWNT had a CBA that expired in 2012, but they signed a four-year extension to that deal, and then negotiated a new deal in 2017. So, essentially, in this CBA cycle, the women ended up negotiating first. That had never happened before.

And unfortunately, the women’s 2017 CBA wasn’t very player-friendly — in their statement, the men speculate that USSF forced the women to sign the federation-friendly deal because they were using their support of the National Women’s Soccer League (NWSL) as a trump card. There’s likely some truth in that.

To make matters more complicated, now the USWNT is suing the USSF, saying that their 2017-2021 CBA is proof of gender discrimination. And what are they using as a comparative point? Well, the men’s 2011-2018 CBA, of course.

That means the the absolute last thing that USSF wants to do now is to negotiate a new CBA with the men that is far better than the 2011 deal!

This, of course, is why the organization’s systemic sexism is finally pissing off the men. (Emphasis mine.)

What we believe should happen is simple. Pay the women significantly more than our recently expired men’s deal. In our estimation, the women were due at least triple what our expired deal was worth in player compensation. We believe the Federation should have agreed to a deal directly tied to a fair share of the revenue players generate. That is what should have happened, based on the entire history of labor negotiations involving the men and women players and the Federation.

Now, the Federation is taking the frivolous position that the USMNT players’ compensation should also stay at those 2011-2018 numbers. This is not because there is any basis for that position. Instead, it’s a desperate attempt to cover-up the fact that what they did to the women in 2017 is indefensible.

It’s so transparent that I’m honestly impressed. They’re not even pretending to be here for the right reasons. It’s nice — and so rare! — not be bullshitted.

And, as amusing as I find it, I don’t hate it. It’s well past time for every worker to realize that management always wants to divide and conquer in labor negotiations. The best way forward is solidarity across genders, races, and roles. Because eventually, management’s desperation for control and capital will marginalize everyone.

The men, it seems, have learned that the hard way.

Today, the USSF is spending more than $10 million a year to try and convince the courts, congress, and the public that they’re treating the women fairly. Now that the men have realized how wrong that is, I’ll let their statement take it from here. (Emphasis mine.)

It is time for this to stop. The Courts, juries, the United States Olympic and Paralympic Committee, Congress, new Federation leadership, or a combination of all five need to reform the Federation. The exploitation of athletes to generate revenues that are siphoned off to benefit owners of for-profit leagues and teams, Federation personnel with massive above-market salaries and bonuses, and self-promoting all-expenses-paid Federation “volunteers,” must end. The practice of paying multi-million dollar bonuses to personnel associated with the Federation for running various Federation-controlled tournaments in the United States should be investigated and outlawed. Soccer is perhaps the most corrupt sport in the World. We do not want a US Soccer Federation that behaves like FIFA.

What can you do? Tell the Federation’s sponsors you will not support them until the Federation starts doing the right thing and gives the women a new CBA that pays a fair share of the gate receipts and that television and sponsorship revenue to the players. Write to your Congressional representatives and tell them it is time to reform the Federation. Let the Federation know that you do not believe the false narrative they are circulating. Support the players, not the Federation.

(Or, you know, at least support the women.)

From the archives: “A ball striking the breasts is not healthy”

This is an AP article that was published in the Colorado Springs Gazette-Telegraph on October 1, 1972. And boy is it a JOURNEY.

Don’t skim over this one.

Monday is a holiday in the United States, so I’ll be back on Tuesday. Have a fabulous long weekend, if you have one!