On February 12th, 2020, the players association representing the men's national soccer team made a public statement that sends shock waves through the United States soccer community. If we are to believe the statement they made, it effectively draws back the curtain on previously confidential negotiations between the United States Soccer Federation and its professional players. At best, this statement hints to the inner workings of United States soccer and suggests some ways in which leadership can improve the system. At worst, their statement cripples trust and condemns our system as deeply flawed. At the very least, it draws people like you and I into the debate around discrimination and fair pay. Let's talk about it.
A Tipping Point (The Lawsuit from USWNT)
On March 8th, 2019, the United States Women's National Team filed a gender discrimination lawsuit against U.S. Soccer in federal court. This lawsuit, case number 2:29-CV-01717, is a class action complaint, 25 pages long, brought by current and former members of the US Women's National Team with the help of the legal firm Winston & Strawn LLP. It alleges violations of the Equal Pay Act (EPA), and title VII of the Civil Rights Act of 1964.
The USSF discriminates against Plaintiffs, and the class that they seek to represent, by paying them less than members of the MNT for substantially equal work and by denying them at least equal playing, training, and travel conditions; equal promotion of their games; equal support and development for their games; and other terms and conditions of employment equal to the MNT.
The lawsuit "seeks an end to the USSF’s discriminatory practices, and an award to make Plaintiffs and the class whole, as well as to provide for liquidated and punitive damages and all other appropriate relief."
It might help to understand this dispute as one between employers (USSF) and labor (the USWNT in this case). The WNT is presenting themselves as employees of USSF, a 501(c)3 nonprofit. They represent that they receive pay and a series of benefits from USSF such as coaches, trainers, nutritionists, doctors, massage therapists, etc. To give you some context around staffing, at the USSF annual general meeting (AGM) on the 14th of February, USSF revealed that the USWNT has a staff of 35 people caring for 23 players.
In addition to staffing, the class action reveals the USSF provides other benefits like deciding the number of games that will be played, where they will be played, practice fields, locker rooms, game surfaces, exercise equipment, scheduling times, transportation, and more.
The WNT claims that USSF provides centralized management and control, that the women require equal skill, effort and responsibilities as their male counterparts, and that the women have "Achieved unmatched success in International soccer leading to substantial profits for the USSF as employer."
Some stats the WNT cite include three World Cup titles and four Olympic Gold Medals. They point out that they were three-time winners of the U.S. Olympic Committee's Team of the Year Award, and Sports Illustrated's Athlete of the Year. They're ranked number one in the World, a position they've held for ten out of the last eleven years.
They claim to have generated "substantial" revenue and profits for the USSF. This is a claim I questioned as I read through the materials in preparation for this show. As President of a 501(c)3 nonprofit myself, I know it is not legal to generate profit in the pure sense. For your information, what we might call "profit" in the nonprofit world is usually classified as "retained earnings." In other words, money generated must be recycled back into support of the mission - something I may talk more about at another time.
There are several references in this class action to "profit," "net loss," and "net profit" that I hope can be better clarified with the help of an actual nonprofit accounting professional.
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