Many of those players and teams succeeded in winning major gains — Norway, Australia and the Netherlands are among the countries whose soccer federations have committed to closing the pay gap between men and women — even as the US players’ case dragged on.
The equal pay fight began almost six years ago, when five star players filed a complaint with the Equal Employment Opportunity Commission accusing US Soccer of wage discrimination. The women, key members of a team that at the time was the reigning World Cup and Olympic champion, claimed that they earned as little as 40 percent of what players on the men’s national team were paid. The players — Morgan, Rapinoe, Lloyd, Hope Solo and Becky Sauerbrunn — said they were being shortchanged on bonuses, appearance fees and even meal money while they were in training camps.
“The numbers speak for themselves,” Solo said, though US Soccer immediately disputed them. Men’s players, Solo said, “get paid more to just show up than we get paid to win major championships.”
Almost immediately, soccer fans took sides in the fight, cleaving US Soccer down the middle. The federation briefly argued that the men brought in more money and drew higher television ratings, and thus served higher pay, but it soon abandoned the stance amid public backlash, player fury and a closer reading of equal pay law.
By then, the sides were already trading the first of what would be many shots in the media, and in court. The federation won a ruling that blocked players from boycotting the 2016 Olympics while they pressed for new contracts, but only after an embarrassing gaffe in which one of its court filings failed to redact the home addresses and personal email accounts of about two dozen top players.
Later depositions produced uncomfortable exchanges that the public relations-savvy women’s players weaponized on social media and in slogans they sold on T-shirts. But they also produced statements the players would not forgive.
In March 2020, months after the women’s team won its second straight Women’s World Cup, US Soccer’s lawyers argued in a court filing that playing for the men’s team required more “skill” and “responsibility” than the women’s equivalent.