U.S. Soccer takes down 'Equal Pay' banner after 'misunderstanding' with American Outlaws

A "big misunderstanding" between the U.S. Soccer Federation and the supporters group the American Outlaws led to the decision by the USSF to take down an "Equal Pay" banner put up by the AO ahead of Thursday's match between the women's national team and Mexico in East Hartford, Connecticut.

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The USWNT went on to win the game against Mexico with goals from Sam Mewis, Christen Press and Tobin Heath as it readies to play in the Olympics in Tokyo in July.

A U.S. Soccer spokesperson said the decision -- one that was corroborated by the AO's head of gameday operations Donald Wine -- wasn't an attempt to silence the banner's message, one that supports the players push for equal pay. The Federation spokesperson added that the Federation was "not upset" over what the banner said.

The players are currently involved in a pay discrimination lawsuit with the USSF. The two sides have already settled a portion of the suit related to working conditions, including charter flights, hotels, venues and number of support staff.

A U.S. District Court judge issued a partial summary judgement against the players in May of 2020 for the equal pay portion of the support. The players appealed the decision to the U.S. 9th Circuit Court of Appeals, asking that court to reinstate that portion of the case.

According to both the USSF spokesperson, as well as Wine, the protocol for placing banners in the stadium is to inform the USSF two weeks in advance in terms of which banners will be displayed. This gives the USSF a chance to determine where some banners can be placed, including those related to sponsorship, team branding, as well as banners from fan groups like the AO, and its local affiliates, like AO Hartford.

In this instance, both the USSF and the AO confirmed that the banner in question -- which said "Equal Play = Equal Pay" -- wasn't submitted for approval until two days before the match, at which time it was rejected. AO Hartford then snuck the banner in and placed it on a railing inside Hartford's Rentschler Field, citing the fact that they had displayed the banner in two previous matches. On this occasion, the banner was removed due to the fact that the USSF had already earmarked the location for its own signage.

Wine told ESPN that the situation was "a big misunderstanding" and that the plan is for the USSF and AO to work together to find a location for the banner when the U.S. and Mexico meet again at the same venue on July 5.