Forget the slick ad campaigns and inspirational slogans. U.S. Soccer just told the women’s national team what it really thinks of the players.
All girls and women, really.
And we should be infuriated.
Dripping with condescension and outdated stereotypes, U.S. Soccer’s response to a request for summary judgment in the equal pay lawsuit essentially minimized everything the women’s team has accomplished and stands for.
The four World Cup titles? Meh. The tournament isn’t as competitive as the men’s version. The years upon years as the top-ranked team in the world? Nice and all, but male players are always going to be superior because they’re faster and stronger.
The glaring spotlight and relentless expectations to be role models for girls and young women while leading efforts to grow the game globally? Please. You try getting yelled at by fans at Azteca or have opposing fans take over your “home games” and then we’ll talk.
All that was missing in Monday night’s filing was for U.S. Soccer to give Megan Rapinoe, Alex Morgan and Carli Lloyd proverbial pats on the head.
“This ridiculous 'argument’ belongs in the Paleolithic Era. It sounds as if it has been made by a caveman,” Molly Levinson, spokeswoman for the U.S. women, said in response. “Literally everyone in the world understands that an argument that male players 'have more responsibility’ is just plain simple sexism and illustrates the very gender discrimination that caused us to file this lawsuit to begin with.
“So looking forward to trial on May 5.”
If that sounds like a warning, it should be taken as one.
These are legal wranglings, and of course U.S. Soccer is going to make arguments that try and bolster its case while undercutting that of the women. But this wasn’t just a difference of opinion. This was unbridled misogyny, the disdain in the tone and tenor of the response making it clear that U.S. Soccer doesn’t consider the women as equal and sure as hell isn’t about to compensate them as such.
It conflated athletic ability with strength and speed, saying it’s “indisputable 'science’” that men are stronger and faster than women, so therefore the women can’t be as skilled as the men.
It’s also indisputable that Lionel Messi, quite possibly the greatest to ever play the game, will never be mistaken for Mr. Universe, his brilliance instead stemming from his agility, balance and 3D vision. But I digress.
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Only Brazil’s men have won more World Cups (five) than the U.S. women, and the U.S. men didn’t even make the last men’s tournament, in 2018. But in U.S. Soccer’s eyes, there’s an asterisk next to the women’s achievements because their game is still developing.
The men’s World Cup generates more revenue, U.S. Soccer pointed out. Gets better ratings, too.
“All these facts demonstrate that the job of (a U.S. men’s) player carries more responsibility within U.S. Soccer than the job of (a U.S. women’s) player,” U.S. Soccer asserted.
Never mind that the women’s game is playing catch-up because FIFA and national federations have traditionally ignored it, refusing to devote resources to the game or promote it.
And if U.S. Soccer really wants to get into the nitty gritty of who’s carrying whom, it’s worth noting that the U.S. women now draw bigger crowds and generate more in ticket sales than the U.S. men. Some of the sponsors who’ve signed on in recent months have done so largely because of the appeal of the women.
But to U.S. Soccer, the women are merely a sideshow.
“A reasonable juror could conclude that the job of (a U.S. men’s) player requires materially different skill and more responsibility than (the U.S. women’s) job does, while also taking place under materially different working conditions,” the federation wrote.
And a reasonable juror also could conclude that the folks running U.S. Soccer are dinosaurs stuck in the 1950s.
It's the U.S. women's names who are on the lawsuit, but it might as well include every woman in America. Each one of us knows what it's like to be marginalized and dismissed, for no other reason than our gender. It's infuriating and exhausting, and with greater frequency and louder voices, we're saying we're no longer going to accept it.
In insulting the women's team, U.S. Soccer has told all of us how little it thinks we're worth.
Follow USA TODAY Sports columnist Nancy Armour on Twitter @nrarmour.
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