The U.S. women's national soccer team got a helping hand in its pursuit to close the pay gap with the men's program thanks to a donation of nearly three-quarters of a million dollars from LUNA Bar.
The company publicly announced its donation Tuesday in conjunction with Equal Pay Day -- but Clif Bar & Company owners and co-CEOs Gary Erickson and Kit Crawford, and Ritu Mathur, senior director of marketing for LUNA Bar, flew to Tampa to present the gift to the team at a Players Association meeting on Feb. 19. U.S. Soccer was informed of the donation Monday night.
"Gary started speaking and we were all like, 'What's the catch?'" USWNT forward Alex Morgan told espnW last week during a media day in Los Angeles organized by LUNA Bar. "But there isn't one. They want to close the gap. They want to be on the forefront of this movement."
The idea for the donation began with a conversation between LUNA Bar representatives and Becca Roux, executive director of the USWNT Players Association. "Just before the New Year, I got an email asking how LUNA Bar could support the women in their quest for equal pay," Roux said. "After that, it all went extremely fast."
Roux and her staff identified several wage gaps between the men's and women's national team programs, including the World Cup qualifying and roster bonuses, before settling on the World Cup the roster bonuses as "a clean, clear way to show a disparity," Roux said. U.S. Soccer pays members of the women's World Cup a roster bonus that is $31,250 per player less than it pays members of the men's team. To close that gap, LUNA Bar made a $718,750 donation to the Players Association with the stipulation that the money would be used to pay each of the 23 members of the 2019 World Cup team $31,250 to make up the difference. The women are also eligible for Olympic qualifying and roster bonuses (the men's tournament is restricted to players under 23), which also narrows the bonus gap if the team qualifies and competes in the three-week quadrennial tournament.
The team, which was asked to keep the donation a secret until the public announcement, joined in a federal class-action lawsuit filed March 11 against U.S. Soccer alleging institutionalized gender discrimination and seeking equitable pay and treatment.
"They did this for the whole Players Association, which is a huge statement," USWNT midfielder Megan Rapinoe said. "It forces other brands to look in the mirror, whether they want to or not. It forces our federation and other companies to ask, 'What is our responsibility and what can we do in this fight?'"
"What's cool about this donation is that so much of the fight for equal pay is exactly that -- a fight," USWNT striker Christen Press said. "We've taken a lot of pride and put a lot of energy toward that fight, and it's something that we want to be part of our legacy. It was handed to us and we will pass it to the future generation.
"In a moment like this, when LUNA comes from the outside and steps up, it shows that this fight is so much bigger than us. It celebrates how we can uplift each other. That's a slightly different message that goes beyond sport and this team and says, 'Let's all help each other. Let's swim in the same direction and we'll get so much further.'"
All three players said the reason they took the time to fly to Los Angeles for a day of media one week before kicking off a busy slate of friendlies was because they were uplifted by the opportunity to discuss pay disparity in a positive manner.
"We're so often in this position of fighting, so our voice gets boxed in," Rapinoe said. "It seems like every time we speak to the media, it's something negative, but it doesn't have to be that way. Contrary to what the federation thinks, we actually prefer to give shine and be positive. We don't see this as a zero-sum game."
Press, who was one of the chief architects of team's current collective bargaining agreement (ratified in April 2017), said she would also like to see the narrative around the USWNT's fight for equal pay shift to place less focus on comparing the women with the men's team. "I would like to see our team celebrated for who we are and not fight over who's been more successful and who deserves to be paid more," she said. "The idea of equal pay is to give both teams equal opportunity to be their most successful selves."
In addition to making the donation, LUNA Bar enlisted Press and former USWNT captain and ESPN broadcaster Julie Foudy to provide advice for women on negotiation tactics in the workplace, which will be available starting Tuesday on lunabar.com. "We negotiated this collective bargaining agreement and it was a huge process, but the same principles apply for any negotiation," Press said. "Every woman should feel empowered to ask for her worth and when you do, here are steps to take to put yourself in the best position. The only way to achieve equality is to hit it from all angles."
On March 9, Adidas said it would pay its sponsored athletes on the Women's World Cup-winning team the same performance bonus granted to their male counterparts. But Roux said LUNA's donation is the first of its kind that the USWNT Players Association has received. She hopes it's not the last.
"There are so many brands doing campaigns around equality. It's very trendy," Roux said. "The Nike commercial that aired during the Grammys was beautiful and tugged at your heartstrings. But this is way cooler. I would love if this starts a new trend in how brands activate around women athletes. I would love to see other brands in other countries step up for their national teams and support them in the same way. That would be a dream."