Editor's note: This column was posted earlier Thursday before U.S. Soccer Federation President Carlos Cordeiro resigned from his post. He stepped down amid heavy criticism after legal filings in the federation's defense in an equal pay lawsuit brought on by the U.S. women's team asserted that the women have lesser physical abilities and responsibilities than their male counterparts.
On Wednesday night in Frisco, Texas, the U.S. women's national team took the field ahead of their SheBelieves Cup finals win against Japan wearing their warm-up jerseys inside out. The team-wide protest came in response the U.S. Soccer Federation (USSF) and its recent court filings associated with the team's equal-pay lawsuit. Still visible above the darkened U.S. crest on the breast of the women's shirts were the four embroidered stars representing their World Cup championships. Fitting, as one could argue that those championships, and the enormous popularity of the team, have come in spite of barriers put up by the organization represented by that crest.
Never has the animosity between the USWNT and its governing body been more apparent than in the days leading up to Wednesday's 3-1 victory. Saturday saw the release of an open letter from USSF president Carlos Cordeiro that USWNT spokeswoman Molly Levinson described as "riddled with falsehoods." Star midfielder Megan Rapinoe also questioned the timing of the letter's release -- one day before the team's match against Spain on International Women's Day.
After that Sunday match, a court filing Tuesday revealed unfathomably antiquated and sexist arguments from lawyers representing the USSF. The motion, filed in the hopes of earning a ruling before a scheduled jury trial begins in May, argued that the job of a men's player "carries more responsibility" than that of a women's player, that the men face more difficult work conditions because of the hostility of opposing fans on the road and at home, and that the men's and women's teams "do not perform equal work requiring equal skill [and] effort" because "the overall soccer-playing ability required to compete at the senior men's national team level is materially influenced by the level of certain physical attributes such as speed and strength." The USSF's counsel argued that pointing out the physical differences between men and women, from skeletal structure to lung capacity, isn't "a sexist stereotype," just "indisputable science."
You read that right. The filing literally argues women are inherently inferior in an effort to prove the USSF isn't discriminating based on gender.
The public backlash was swift. Media, fans, USWNT players and team representatives all chimed in; so did sponsors, including Coca-Cola, Visa, Budweiser and Deloitte, all of which publicly condemned the offensive statements. A statement from Cordeiro released during the last 10 minutes of Wednesday's game read, in part, "On behalf of U.S. Soccer, I sincerely apologize for the offense and pain caused by language in this week's court filing," and "I have made it clear to our legal team that even as we debate facts and figures in the course of this case, we must do so with the utmost respect not only for our Women's National Team players but for all female athletes around the world."
As Drake would say: If you're reading this, it's too late.
Damage done, Cordeiro.
The disrespect revealed by the USSF's approach made clear that their reason for denying the women's team equal pay is, quite simply, because they are not men. Initial rebuttals to the USWNT's demands for equal pay cited FIFA prize money or the larger revenue streams in men's soccer. Now, as the women reap the rewards of World Cup wins, major sponsor partnerships, sold-out stadiums and ever-growing television ratings, the argument for the USSF has changed from revenue to the hassle of dealing with hostile crowds and, I kid you not, "red blood cell count" and "the absolute ability to process carbohydrates."
Imagine arguing that combative opposing fans are more of an obstacle than centuries of institutionalized sexism. Forget about being told that you're physically and intellectually inferior for your entire life and literally having laws limit the control you have over your own body -- it's those tough soccer crowds that will be your undoing.
Imagine needing to create a hypothetical in which the men's and women's teams compete against each other so you can emphasize the importance of physical attributes. Are future World Cup tournaments going to be co-ed? Are penalty shots going to be replaced by clean-and-jerks? Is a champion featherweight who loses to a middling heavyweight a worse boxer or just a different fighter? The USWNT doesn't need to face tougher crowds or beat the men -- at soccer or carbohydrate processing -- to prove their worth.
The misogynist claims in Tuesday's court filing make it crystal clear the USSF doesn't believe that women and girls are worth investing in. It's the same tired myth that women in sports have always dealt with. The world wants to give its sons $1,000 to start a company and its daughters $1, then punish the girls for not growing their businesses as fast. They want the revenue (output) to be the same for female athletes and teams even though the investment (input) never is. Institutionalized misogyny and a lack of resources and funding have set women back for decades, and when they push through all of the B.S. to succeed, as the USWNT has, then the goalposts move and the argument against them changes.
The USWNT has proven time and again that a small investment goes a long way. Imagine what would happen if "SheBelieves" turned into "WeBelieve" and the team got as much support from its own federation as it does from fans and each other. Imagine what the team could accomplish if its focus was solely on defeating opposing teams, not battling its own governing body. Imagine what it would feel like for the best players in the world to get to proudly represent a federation led by people who don't insult and demean them. A federation led by people who actually believe women and girls are deserving and worthy.
At least now the public knows what the USWNT and its representatives have long understood from internal negotiations: The USSF fundamentally believes women and girls are inferior. A belief that is starkly at odds with the federation's mission statement to grow and develop the game of soccer, "in all its forms" and "to continue the development of soccer at all recreational and competitive levels." It sure feels like some changes need to be made at the highest levels of the sport if soccer is to be properly served and represented.
In the meantime, the U.S. women's national team will keep winning. The players will keep inspiring further investment in women's soccer programs all over the world. They'll keep displaying the strength, confidence and unity necessary to carry on the fight of all the women that came before them, in the hopes that they won't need to pass it down to the ones that follow.
Rapinoe said it best after Wednesday night's victory: "To every girl out there, to every boy out there... You are not lesser just because you are a girl. You are not better just because you are a boy. We are all created equal and should have the equal opportunity to go out and pursue our dreams."