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U.S. Soccer Got Dragged Kicking And Screaming Into One Good Decision

CARSON, CALIFORNIA - FEBRUARY 20: Mallory Pugh #9 of the United States celebrates her goal against New Zealand with teammates during the SheBelieves Cup 2022 at Dignity Health Sports Park on February 20, 2022 in Carson, California. (Photo by Ronald Martinez/Getty Images)
Ronald Martinez/Getty Images

The $24 million settlement that the United States Women’s National soccer team extracted from the U.S. Soccer Federation has been almost universally described as “historic,” which is to say that it is the first time the USSF didn’t high-hand the clearly more successful wing of the eagle. If you dispute this description, consider not only the money the women generate but the brackish film in your mouth that develops when you watch the men.

But this is hardly a triumph if you think fairness has been achieved. As kaleidoscopic star/spokesman Megan Rapinoe said, “There’s no real justice in this other than this never happening again,” but even that seems too optimistic a read. Twenty four million dollars is essentially tip money when compared to the amount of time USSF spent denying and delaying, and the fact that it is tied to the ratification of a new collective bargaining agreement that will allegedly include equal pay as part of the firmament means that the USSF still thinks pay equality is more a matter of negotiating skill than basic operating principles.

Everyone involved pretended to be pleased that the lawsuit has finally been dealt with, but the same people who fought so long against equal pay are the same people in power now. Even USSF president Cindy Parlow Cone, who replaced Carlos Cordeiro after his resignation over a USSF legal filing that dismissed the women as inferior athletes who do not perform equal work requiring equal skill when compared to the men’s team, is connected to the old regime in that she’d been in office for nearly two years while USSF was opposing fairness. More interestingly, Cordeiro is running again for the office he once held (the election is March 5; vote early and often, kids), and one can operate safely within the assumption that he is not running on the I’m Sorry I Was Such A Dope And Yay Women ticket.

In short, this is a battle that should have had an outright winner years ago (the players, in case you’ve been missing the point up until now), and the fact that there are still so many issues between the two sides suggests that the USSF is still comfortable being on the wrong side of the history the women made. You can almost hear the $24 million getting cold in a vault collecting spiders while distribution is delayed by, ick, contract lawyers.

This is a day for a long exasperated sigh rather than celebration, as, the minutiae of details being what they are, there is no guarantee that the USSF won’t find new ways to play hardball. The price for years of retrograde obstinacy should have been way more than $24 million (the women in their initial lawsuit asked for $66.7 million), and the mistakes the USSF insisted upon making based on a disastrous corporate strategy should have come with something more akin to a full surrender on the merits. As long as the women still have to fight for the piece they long ago earned, the divide between two sides who should have seen the merits in happy cooperation will remain, and the March 5 election might be a backward step in what ought to be a rational march forward.

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