What a messy week for USSF proves about the organization’s misogyny

Courtesy+of+The+Equalizer

Daniela Porcelli/SPP

Courtesy of The Equalizer

Anna Arnsberger

On the eve of International Women’s Day and in the midst of the SheBelieves cup, a tournament meant to empower girls in sport, Carlos Cordeiro released an open letter to the public. Cordeiro, former president of the US Soccer Federation (USSF), wrote regarding the federation’s fight over equal pay with the US Women’s National Team (USWNT). The letter was filled with misleading statements about the valiant efforts USSF has made to promote gender equality and invalidated the women’s team’s drive for fair treatment. This public stab at the USWNT during a moment dedicated to honoring women is an all-too familiar example of the deep-seated misogyny that is inherent in USSF.

Ever since its beginning, the USWNT has had a contentious relationship with USSF. From pushing for salaries exceeding $10 a day in the 80s, to settling their first collective bargaining agreement (CBA) in 2001, the history of the women’s team is one of constant negotiations and self-advocacy. And while the team has slowly gained more and more concessions over the past few decades, their fight is far from over. In our current chapter of strife, 28 USWNT players are engaged in a lawsuit filed against USSF last year, seeking over $66 million in reparations for “institutionalized gender disctimination.”

A court filing on March 9, two days after Cordeiro was criticized for his open letter, revealed a number of arguments being used by USSF’s lawyers in their trial against the USWNT. These arguments ranged from CBA analysis to comparing the roles of women’s and men’s team players. Ignoring the debate over money—which is a technical conversation for another day—many of the filing’s assertions expose a profound culture of misogynistic thinking within the federation.

USSF’s counsel argued that the women’s team doesn’t deserve equal pay as their game demands less skill. The filing claimed that a “materially higher level of speed and strength required to perform the job of a MNT player” is simply “indisputable science.” This trite and blatantly sexist reasoning comes at no shock when employed by internet trolls, but for the largest soccer organization in the US to push such pathetic rhetoric in a legal situation is frankly shameful. 

The lawyers went on to allege that playing on the men’s team is inherently more difficult, as “opposing fan hostility encountered in… MNT road environments, especially in Mexico and Central America, is unmatched by anything the WNT must face while trying to qualify for an important tournament.” USSF resorting to such a weak and subtly racist claim proves that they’re grasping for straws—the federation lacks substantial reasoning for withholding equal pay other than simple misogyny. 

Cordeiro later issued an apology over the language used in the filings. But this concession didn’t come from a moment of personal remorse and it certainly wasn’t guided by Cordeiro’s fuzzy feelings towards the USWNT players. Cordeiro only released his apology after big-name sponsors including Coca Cola, Visa, and Budweiser all spoke out condemning the federation. 

Following immense backlash, Cordeiro finally resigned on March 12. While his departure is certainly welcome news, it does not change the culture of sexism abhorrently rooted into USSF. The federation is still filled with directors and executives who’ve long been enabling a misogynistic administration. USSF’s counsel and legal strategy will stay the same. And even though the US Men’s National Team announced their support for the women’s side last month, it was only done to promote their own desires as they navigate new CBA negotiations. It’s clear that the USWNT is alone in a federation that refuses to foster their best interests. 

There’s no question that the US has long set the standard for women’s soccer. The USWNT’s international domination is proof of how decent treatment makes a world of difference in the success of a professional team. But USSF shouldn’t be applauded for simply being better than other federations. The sexism that is still severely ingrained in the organization requires recognition and condemnation. Only when the USWNT is truly treated equally can USSF be applauded for serving as a worthy example for the management of women in sports.