Players for the U.S. women's national soccer team should be commended for their decision to take on U.S. Soccer over contract negotiations and pay. Today, after months of positioning themselves for a proper challenge of their collective bargaining status and future terms of a new contract, five leaders for the U.S. women's national team filed a complaint with the Equal Employment Opportunity Commission.
Working on behalf of the entire U.S. women's national team, Carli Lloyd, Hope Solo, Alex Morgan, Becky Sauerbrunn and Megan Rapinoe are seeking an investigation into U.S. Soccer's contracts with broadcasters and marketing sponsors. In addition to pay disparity (they say they may 40 cents on the dollar to what the men's U.S. national team players make) the women contend that broadcast fees to U.S. Soccer and other sponsorship deals associated with the women's competitive and marketing success should bolster their pay.
In their complaint, the women contend that the 2016 profits will "thanks almost exclusively to the success of the WNT.'' U.S. Soccer now projects a $17.7 million profit in connection with these teams -- and it's not due to what Jurgen Klinsmann is doing on the men's side. With three World Cups win and string of gold medal Olympic wins, the U.S. women's national team is a juggernaut that ranks No. 1 in the FIFA World Rankings and continues to draw bigger crowds and TV ratings.
In an expose this week in the New York Daily News, Fox Sports head of business operations, David Nathanson, said the ratings' promise of the U.S. women's run in 2015 Women's World Cup was enough to make Fox's bid for rights a no-brainer. Fox paid $1.2 billion for both the men's and women's World Cups between 2015 and 2022.
“I can tell you that when we were bidding on the rights, we valued the Women’s World Cup almost as high as the men’s World Cup. We recognized at an early stage that the U.S. had the number-one ranked team in the world and there was a big opportunity to capture the interest of this country with that event. In fact, the Women’s World Cup final (in 1999) was the (second)-highest-rated soccer event. We knew there was tremendous value in it from an early stage, and we certainly considered that when we were bidding on the rights,'' Nathanson said.
Fox Soccer, which has very little women's soccer on its site in general, committed thousands of dollars in coverage for the 2015 Women's World Cup to have me cover the team strictly for the digital side of its operation. They knew what they were doing. They got the highest ratings of any soccer match ever broadcast in the U.S. The $17 million they expected in net revenue morphed into $40 million by the time Carli Lloyd netted her historic World Cup final hat trick.
“Women players are an inspiration,” Nathanson told the NYDN, adding: “You don’t have to explain that to advertisers.”
By their hiring of sports law expert Jeffrey Kessler, the women have finally graduated from trying to coerce U.S. Soccer into equal pay to arming themselves for a fight they can, and should, win. This complaint should help the women crack open U.S. Soccer's books and force an examination on how the federation structures its spending between the men's team and the women's team. As The New York Times stated today in its story, the EEOC complaint could, in fact, lead to millions of dollars in back pay for the U.S. women's national team players.
This is not a gamble by the U.S. women's national team players, as far as I can tell. They have a tremendous amount of leverage not just in terms of their popularity but in terms of inequitable distribution of revenue they help generate for U.S. Soccer. In their filing with the EEOC, the women cite numbers that show vast disparity in pay. For instance, they would earn $99,000 each if they won 20 friendlies, the minimum number they are required to play in a year as per their contract. The men would likely earn $263,320 each for the same 20 matches wins, and would get $100,000 even if they lost all 20 games. The women get no extra pay for playing more than 20 games. The mean get between $5,000 and $17,625 for each game played beyond 20.
In World Cup payouts, the disparity has already been widely reported. The U.S. women received a team total of $2 million when it won the 2015 Women's World Cup. The U.S. men played in the World Cup in Brazil in 2014, earning $9 million despite being knocked out in the round of 16.
Of course Lloyd, Solo and the rest of the U.S. women's national team needed to bring in a top-notch legal team to not only negotiate a new contract, but to break down U.S. Soccer's patriarchal "benevolence" of doling out compensation that it says is fair. Maybe U.S. Soccer is, underneath it all, feeling cursed for having helped created this unprecedented U.S. women's national team -- an enterprise that is without compare to anything in sports anywhere in terms of its success and historical significance.
The U.S. women know they have led a soccer revolution here in the U.S. and around the world. Women are playing soccer at advancing levels of skill, acceptance and marketability around the globe. But at home, it's finally time to crack the books, crack the code on what's fair. They built it. They've earned it. This is another significant step in the delineating what equality looks like and how it gets paid.
Paris, Brussels, Lahore, Ankara and all the other cities where bombs or shootings have ripped through airports and train stations and parks where children and their families gather: These are the places and images that flashed through my mind when, suddenly, a normal moment morphed into an emergency response to an immediate threat. Normally, I would make a selfish joke about my bad karma about being in the wrong place at the wrong time, but these aren't normal times and, since I escaped any harm, I'm just counting my luck, if not blessings.
Soon after arriving at Miami International Airport on Monday, March 28, me and my family were in Terminal H, waiting for our Delta flight home to New York. We were half an hour from boarding and were sitting near the gate when, suddenly, a thundering commotion could be heard. A pack of people came running down the terminal. My partner and I looked at each other in that instant and wondered: It must be a group running to make a connection. Were they laughing? We could see high emotion but it wasn't clear -- until the blue-shirted TSA agents started shouting: "Everyone run, let's go!" It took a second or two, which seemed longer, for it to sink in. What was happening in the terminal was now cause for everyone to get up and run for an exit.
This was the second time in the past three months that I've been in this situation. A day before Christmas, I stopped at Roosevelt Field Mall on Long Island to pick up a last-minute gift for our daughter. The mall is, once or twice a year, a necessary evil and I planned to be in there for less than 15 minutes. Five minutes into my shopping run, I had a few shirts draped over my arm as I hastily perused some pajamas. Then I noticed out of the corner of my eye a line of people running for the exit. That's weird, I thought. Maybe they're going to catch a bus or something. It didn't make sense, but in that split second, it didn't effect me, so I continued what I was doing. Then people kept coming down the aisle, running faster in thicker clumps on all sides of me and now they were shouting. Something about a shooting, that there was an active shooter in the mall.
In both the mall shooting and the airport evacuation, there came a strangely time-distorted period of time -- a second, two seconds or three -- that it took for my ears and eyes to transmit to my brain that the normally routine activity of shopping or waiting for a plane was turning into situation that demanded an immediate shift to reaction mode. And not just any reaction, but a response to what was in reality, or being perceived as, an immediate danger. In both these instances, the most surreal sensation was how the animal reaction to flee when faced with out-of-the-blue circumstances and events had to win a fast battle over the mindset that public spaces in this rambunctious, consumer-based, free-traveling society are here for our use and pleasure.
In the case of the Roosevelt Mall shooting, the seemingly slow realization that I had to get out of the mall saw me turning my head several times as people flew by me and grew increasingly louder and more panicked in their call for everyone to run. I remember having time to wonder what I should do with all the specific shirts I had picked out and was almost ready to go pay for. Do I put them down in a place I can find them for when I can get back in? That was weird, but I was still thinking: I made this effort to get here and I "needed" these last-minute Christmas gifts to make sure there was enough under the tree for our teenage daughter. Then, getting closer to finally reacting, I wondered: Should I just run out with the clothes, not to steal them but just to have them all in one place so I could pay later but not leave empty handed. Again. Weird. Finally, after clicking through options, I transitioned from American Mother Shopping At The Last Minute In A Big American Shopping Mall i.e. What Is More Normal Than That to ... a potential victim that needed to get the hell out of dodge. Finally, I ran for the exit and, as I got to the door, I just heaved all the clothes near the register and ran out into the parking lot.
Hundreds of other people were flooding the parking lot , too. Police cars and emergency vehicles came screaming in from all angles. People on cell phones were confused, crying, scared. There had been shots: I heard one as I ran for the door. If a terrorist attack was taking place in one of New York's biggest symbols of American consumerism, no one would be surprised. Yet, it was still a shocking feeling to suddenly identify with other people around the world who face this kind of threat, who have to be prepared at any given second to switch from citizen doing normal, daily tasks to part of a pack of people targeted by madmen and terrorists. The hair-trigger response by law enforcement was reassuring, yet also an alarming realization that, at any given moment, our normal lives can be ruptured by violence. It takes another few seconds for the mind to go from fright/flight mode to wondering what ends are the perpetrators seeking to achieve? The active shooter, it turned out, was a burglary gone bad. So the threat of gunmen mowing down dozens of people to make some twisted point turned out to be non-existent, though that was the image I took with me as I ran out to the mall parking lot. Did the dark fight of Jihadist terrorists come back to New York? Was this the time and place where, like 9/11, we were going to be brutalized by a war that will never be won?
At the Miami Airport yesterday, that same strange transition took place. After hearing the TSA agents shouting for everyone to run, I stood bolt upright and looked around, seeing that the terminal was now the scene of a mass evacuation. Some people shouted "What's going on?" to try and help summon the reason to jerk from gate-waiting somnambulance to action. I looked at my partner, made sure my daughter was right next to me, and we grabbed at our small suitcases. Scrambling, deciding, adrenaline kicking in so hard my stomach muscles flooded with tense buzzing, the three of us started running wildly down the terminal until, about 100 yards down, short of breath and wondering what good it was going to do to run wildly, I told my partner and daughter to slow down. We can't outrun a bomb, if that's what they're talking about, especially if we wind up making a rash move or get caught up in a stampede. "We're going to go at a good pace, together, and not panic,'' was our decision. We kept moving fast, and instead of being shoved into an elevator, we decided on a wide stairwell to take us down and out to the tarmac, where emergency and police vehicles were flying in from all over the airport runways and terminals.
Was it unattended luggage that spooked someone? Was it TSA agents seeing something on an x-ray scan that alarmed them? We heard different things as we waited in the thick Miami humidity, the heavy fragrance of jet fuel hovering over us. People were on their phones. Some were crying. It was certainly surreal, but after about 15 minutes, the situation seemed to be no longer a threat. Police and airport security were not boosting their response, but preparing to get us back inside. We never found out exactly what set this evacuation in motion, even as we stood back outside the terminal and had to be processed through security again. By then, the visceral images of Brussels or Lahore had dissipated, then vanished. We were not facing that today, after all. We were facing air traffic delays due to high winds into LaGuardia Airport, the place politicians call a Third World airport when, in the news, Americans disagree about how to tax and spend money and lift our society forward. Everything was back to normal, though, not really. One day, the ending may not be so good. I'm not sure if the threat of something horrific happening will, right now, shatter my sense of freedom and use of public spaces. We're creatures of habit. We want to move around, buy things, see places. We surrender or suspend certain feelings in favor of other, more immediate needs and desires. I will say, though, that the second time I had to run in fear of something horrible going down, I recognized a strangely now more familiar, sinking feeling of fear and sadness and sobriety about the world we're living in. More to the point, will my 17-year-old daughter factor this threat into decisions she makes? There's no amount of usual assurances that can take back that alarm and fright and rush of almost crippling adrenaline. It starts to get coded into your psyche, even when the threat was shown this time to have been a false alarm.
After a year as the women's soccer writer for Fox Soccer, I got the call last week that the gig is up. In the sweeping way that media sites stop and start initiatives because it costs so much dang money to produce content, my contract was canceled. For me, it was a blessing in disguise, because after a year of amazing travel covering the U.S. women's national team, I had written just about everything I cared to write about this amazing team. Also, as a contract writer, my termination was far less painful than the layoffs of my boss, Jamie Trecker, the soccer guru who had worked for Fox 12 years, among others given their pink slips.
In the past year, I covered the U.S. women as they played through and won the 2015 Women's World Cup in Canada, and then stayed on to write about their Victory Tour. Having covered the team in 1996 during the Atlanta Olympics, and during that amazing 1999 World Cup win at the Rose Bowl, then in 2004 in Athens, it was very interesting to see the U.S. women finally regain their footing as the No. 1 team in the FIFA rankings. The world of international women's soccer has nipped the U.S. in the heels, but the U.S. women's national team program has all the ingredients to stay ahead of the world, especially now with amazing, technically skilled soccer players. The knock against the U.S. has been that they relied on athleticism and size and sheer competitive determination to dominate. Now they have youthful talent like Mallory Pugh and Lindsay Horan to add a new dimension for the next era.
But creatively and journalistically, it was time to move on. It's been one week or so since I got the call from the Fox honchos. In that time I have started to realize why this past year has seemed very hectic -- a literal whirlwind. (aka: world wind) Here is where I traveled since January 2015:
San Jose, Santa Cruz, Los Angeles, Lisbon & Algarve Coast in Portugal, St. Louis, Winnipeg, Edmonton, Vancouver, Ottawa, Montreal, back to Vancouver, Seattle, Pittsburgh, Chattanooga, Birmingham, Atlanta, Detroit, Seattle (again!), Orlando, Portland, Hawaii, Seattle, Phoenix, New Orleans, Dallas, Austin and Houston.
That is merely a list of cities. There is no way, sitting here after this is all over and done with, to begin to describe the hundreds of experiences I was able to have traipsing around the country and world. Travel is both immeasurably enriching to the human mind, eye and palette, and challenging to the central nervous system. I tried to make the utmost of every place I visited and feel pretty good that, with all my experience over my many years as a sports writer, that I made some pretty cool decisions about where and how to explore each place I went. But I feel grateful to be back home, with my family, and have a new sense of calm about creating a schedule and work life that is not so far flung.
What I loved about the travel, in addition to seeing things, was coming home with something new to think about or try. In Houston, my last trip, the art museums, barbecue and southern Texas culture turned out to be a lot more compelling than I had imagined. I fell hard for the West Alabama Street Icehouse, among other icehouse beer joints that dotted street corners in Houston's outer ringed neighborhoods. Like New Orleans, where the weather and climate dictates lifestyles so different from New York, it was a revelation the way people slowed down and weren't all hyped up like the way they are up North. I brought that feeling home with me, and a new obsession with how those Texans can smoke their brisket and turkey to taste so much like, well, Texas!
My life on the road is over, but so far, I have already turned my Weber grill into a Houston smoker. On the first 68-degree day of 2016, I procured some lump coal and applewood chips and lit the thing on fire. If I can't go on the road anymore, the road has come home. Hopefully, the neighbors didn't mind the smell of woodsmoke firing up the Long Island evening sky.
Is a former political and sports columnist who worked great cities like Albany NY, Seattle, Baltimore and Harrisburg PA. She lives New York.