All 28 members of the U.S. Women's National Team are suing the U.S. Soccer Federation for gender discrimination, arguing that they are paid less than their peers on the Men's National Team despite having the same job responsibilities and achieving superior results. The lawsuit is the latest in an ongoing fight against the wage gap in soccer as well as most professional sports around the world.
The USWNT won its third Women's World Cup in 2015 and will defend its world championship status this summer. In contrast, the men's team did not qualify for the 2018 men's World Cup. Five members of the USWNT filed a similar lawsuit in 2016, saying they brought in an additional $20 million in revenue the previous year and yet were still paid roughly a quarter of what the average male player makes.
"Each of us is extremely proud to wear the United States jersey, and we also take seriously the responsibility that comes with that," USWNT forward Alex Morgan said in a statement. "We believe that fighting for gender equality in sports is a part of that responsibility. As players, we deserved to be paid equally for our work, regardless of our gender."
The astronomical wage gap across professional sports is a poorly kept secret. Forbes' 2018 list of the world's 100 highest-paid athletes did not include any women. Boxer Floyd Mayweather, the highest paid overall, made $285 million. Three of the top 10 highest-compensated athletes in the world were soccer players, with Argentina's Lionel Messi ranking second highest with his pay of $111 million. Tennis player Serena Williams, the highest-paid female athlete in the world in 2018, earned $18.1 million (6.25 percent of Mayweather's earnings). Brazil's Marta da Silva, the highest-paid female soccer player and widely respected as the best in the world, makes the equivalent of $500,000 per year (about 0.44 percent of what Messi makes).
Domestically, there is a fairly obvious wage gap in many individual sports. Basketball has come into the spotlight recently after WNBA player A'ja Wilson tweeted about LeBron James' $154 million contract with the Lakers last year.
The average WNBA salary is only 20 percent of the average NBA salary, according to CNBC. WNBA players make between $50,000 and $110,000, whereas the starting salary for an NBA player is $560,000 and the starting salary for an NBA referee is $150,000. In tennis, one of the highest-paying sports for women, the median wage gap between a woman ranked in the top 100 and the man with a corresponding ranking is $120,624, the New York Times reported.
The predominant justification for the wage gap is simply that men's teams make more money. However, a potential contributing factor to that is the fact that men's sports have historically received significantly more broadcast time and media coverage than women's sports. A study from the University of Southern California conducted over 25 years found that ESPN's SportsCenter has devoted only 2 percent of its airtime to women's sports since 1999. Additionally, 95 percent of television anchors, co-anchors, and analysts, and 90.1 percent of print sports editors who make coverage decisions, are male. Women's sports are also covered in a more "boring" way that downplays women's achievements, the study found.
The USWNT hopes this lawsuit will have an impact on sexism in sports beyond soccer.
"We believe it is our duty to be the role models that we've set out to be and fight [for] what we know we legally deserve," USWNT forward Christen Press told the Associated Press. "And hopefully in that way it inspires women everywhere."