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The U.S. Women's wage debate, and what it means for soccer in Utah

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Thomas B. Shea-USA TODAY Sports

Last week, while Real Salt Lake was trying to patch together a line up to face Sporting Kansas City, The U.S Women’s national team was putting together their own superstar lineup. Their opponent? U.S. Soccer itself.

Alex Morgan, Carli Lloyd, Megan Rapinoe, Becky Sauerbrunn and Hope Solo, five stars of the World Cup winning women’s squad, filed a wage discrimination complaint against the U.S. Soccer Federation through the Equal Employment Opportunity Commission. The complaint states that despite their success, the women on the national team make only a quarter of what their male counterparts do.

A look at the numbers seems to back that up. Evan Davis wrote an enlightening piece for fivethirtyeight.com that, among other things, broke down the pay of Clint Dempsey and Tim Howard from the men’s team compared to that of Hope Solo and Carli Lloyd from the women’s side.  Spoiler: Timmy and Clint made more Benjamins, despite the fact that the women are predicted to generate around $8.6 million more than the men during the year 2017.

There are some caveats. U.S. Soccer does partially subsidize the women’s domestic soccer league, as well as paying the salaries of national team players who choose to play in the league, so it’s not a situation where the growth of women’s soccer is being completely ignored. Many articles have also pointed to the disparity in World Cup payouts, but that is in the hands of FIFA, not the USSF. Other factors (such as separately negotiated Collective Bargaining Agreements) come into play, but beneath it all still lies the fact that despite earning comparable amounts to the men, the women earn significantly less.

Although the story has mainly focused around money it’s really more about value, particularly the value U.S. Soccer has apparently placed on the women’s team. It doesn’t really matter if they fly coach or business class, or if they get $15,000 for making the World Cup roster. What matters is that they fly coach while the men fly business, and that they receive 15k while the men receive 76k for the same feat. It matters because while this team has shown the world what women are capable of, the pay disparity by the USSF has shown that they don’t value that message.

Last year, in the midst of slumps by Aaron Rodgers and James Harden, Pablo Torre passionately pointed out the inequity of how men and women are seen in sports. Too often, women are viewed as weaknesses of men, as distractions, side characters, but rarely if ever the main event.

The U.S. women’s national team is one of the only narratives where women have been consistently cast in the role of champions, and the effect has been felt across an entire generation of women. Forbes reports that between 1999 (the year USA beat China in the iconic World Cup match) and 2014, girls participation is up 37% at the club level and 45% at the high school level. During a White House visit following last year’s World Cup, President Obama perfectly explained the message of women’s soccer over the past few decades by saying, "Taking yourself and your country to the top of the world. That's what American women do. That's what American girls do."

Somehow, the USSF has failed to recognize what American girls are capable of, but it looks like they will soon be getting the message. Sportscaster, journalist and author John Bacon told CNN "I think their odds of winning are excellent... any logical reason that you can give me that they're not to be paid the same simply breaks down very quickly, so you're going to hear all kinds of crazy stuff ... (but) the women have, in my opinion, a rock-solid case."

While the fate of the USWNT will be decided in the courts, there is something every RSL fan can do to support the continued growth of women’s soccer in the states.

Last year, RSL Women kicked of their inaugural season. With a future goal of joining the National Women’s Soccer League that most members of the USWNT play in, RSL Women made a strong case by winning the WPSL Elite National Championship, 7-0.

The club will kick off a new season soon and could use support. In a Deseret News article, last year’s coach Jeff Ginn stated, "If you care about women’s soccer growth, come to games. You have some phenomenal women that don’t get recognized for their abilities. They need your support. If you’re a Real Salt Lake fan, you should be a Real Salt Lake Women’s fan."

In the same article, Coach Ginn stated that over 40,000 girls play soccer in the state of Utah. As an RSL family we can show those girls, and many others throughout the country, that we believe in the message the women’s national team is sending the USSF, that we believe that women in sports are more than a distraction or sideshow. By attending RSL Women’s games, we show that we believe that women are champions. Our support will show, that we believe that we, men and women, will win.