MSNBC Bungles Women’s Soccer Equal Pay Controversy

The US Women's National Soccer Team opened up its defense of its World Cup title on Monday with a resounding 13-0 victory over Thailand, but the sheer magnitude of the win brought the team's lawsuit alleging pay discrimination back into the national dialogue. On Wednesday's edition of MSNBC Live host Stephanie Ruhle invited author and CEO Tiffany Dufu and CEO of the Female Coefficient Shelley Zalis to tell the viewers that the USWNT is being discriminated against by the US Soccer Federation.

Dufu argued that tradition arguments against a so-called "Gender Gap" do not apply in this case, "The women U.S. Soccer Team brings in more revenue, they generate more revenue, they're more popular." This is true, but where the panel started to go wrong was when Zalis tried to quantify things: "Of course we are. We are bringing in $23 million for revenue. Higher ratings, more revenue, very entertaining and yet [the men are] getting paid double. So $30 million versus $15 million in 2019 salaries. $30 million for the prize versus $15 million. Men's soccer, $440 million. 7.5 percent of what men are making, and that's for 2022 for men’s. What's wrong with this picture?" 

 

 

 

 

To answer the Zalis question, while the US Women's Soccer Team and women's soccer maybe popular within the United States, the game is not as popular worldwide, hence the discrepancy in prize money. Similar controversies have surrounded previous World Cups. It was viewed as outrageous that the women's team that won the World Cup took home smaller prize winnings than the men's team which didn't make it out of the Round of 16. The discrepancy has nothing to do with the USSF and everything to do with World Cup revenue generated by FIFA. In 2011 the women's tournament made nearly $73 million, while the 2010 men's tournament brought in $4 billion.

But, what about Ruhle's contention that states "if a male and female each played 20 exhibition games a year, the guys would be paid, ready for this, more than $250,000 on average while the women would earn a max of $99,000." Granted, this is probably the WNT's best argument in their lawsuit, but it will be difficult for the women to argue that as the two teams have separate collective bargaining agreements which will make any comparison much more difficult, if not impossible.

While the Associated Press reported in March that "Compensation for the women includes a guaranteed salary and also salaries paid by the USSF for their time with clubs in the National Women’s Soccer League. The men get paid based on roster selection for appearances for friendlies and tournaments," journalists will have a tough time getting to the bottom of the issue because the terms of the CBAs are not public.

One can understand why some would find it odd or even worrisome that while the WNT is really, really good and the MNT is... not, they still appear to be getting the short end of the stick. That is where MSNBC, with its entire staff of journalists and researchers, should have done a more thorough job in reporting on this story to properly inform viewers, rather than just uncritically repeating Kirsten Gillibrand's talking points.

Here is a transcript for the June 12 show:

MSNBC

MSNBC Live with Stephanie Ruhle

9:45 AM ET

STEPHANIE RUHLE: Time for Money, Power, and Politics and women. The U.S. Women's Soccer Team made World Cup history last night with a stunning thirteen-zip win against Thailand, scoring more goals than any other team in the history of the turn tournament. The remarkable win has put a different kind of goal into the spotlight, the women' fight to be paid as much as the men's team. Back in March they filed a lawsuit against the U.S. Soccer Federation claiming they face purposeful gender discrimination. According the lawsuit, from 2013 to 2016 if a male and female each played 20 exhibition games a year, the guys would be paid, ready for this, more than $250,000 on average while the women would earn a max of $99,000. This fight has captured the nation, and even the attention of lawmakers in D.C. New York senator and 2020 contender Kirsten Gillibrand tweeting after last night's game, “Here's an idea, if you win 13-0-- the most goals for a single game in World Cup history, you should be paid at least equally to the men's team.” Here to weigh in two dear friends and mentors of mine, Tiffany Dufu founder and CEO of The Crew and author of "Dropping the Ball: Achieving more by doing less" and Shelley Zalis CEO of the Female Quotient. Ladies, welcome. Given us your reaction, Tiffany to you first, the disparity and fight we're seeing. For women who pack in more fans at these arenas. 

TIFFANY DEFU: Absolutely. First of all, go U.S.A.! 

SHELLEY ZALIS: Whew! 

DUFU: Secondly, there's a lot of conservative messaging out there about how American needs to take care of its own. I say we start with U.S. Women's Soccer. One of the arguments is that women’s sports, don't bring in as much revenue. That is not true in this case. The women U.S. Soccer Team brings in more revenue, they generate more revenue, they're more popular. They're slaying it on the field and global stage and they need to be paid equally. 

RUHLE: The argument is often, Shelly, they don't bring the advertising dollars, they don't bring the fans. They do. Is anything going to change? We've been talking about this fight for a few years. 

ZALIS: Of course we are. We are bringing in $23 million for revenue. Higher ratings, more revenue, very entertaining and yet getting paid double. So $30 million versus $15 million in 2019 salaries. $30 million for the prize versus $15 million. Men's soccer, $440 million. 7.5% of what men are making, and that's for 2022 for men’s. What's wrong with this picture? 

RUHLE: The fact Kirsten Gillibrand is weighing in, yes, it's just a tweet but a  tweet could be the start of something. Do you think lawmakers will get involved? 

RUFU: I really hope they do. This comes up for the US Women's Soccer Team only every four years but this is the situation of women not being paid their worth across the board. One of the other big excuses, by the way, for not doing this is women come out of the workforce, they have babies so therefore they're not working as much. We just had a situation with Nike and their contracts and women female athletes spoke up. Colin Kaepernick has not played football for two seasons and he has got a huge Nike contract. Every excuse they're giving for why women should not be paid their worth is being proven invalid over and over and over again. 

RUHLE: We only see them show up, obviously, every four years. But Amy Wambach, former U.S. Soccer star, Abby Wambach, brought this up at her commencement speech last year at Barnard. I want to share a little because it broke my heart. 

BEGIN CLIP


ABBY WOMBACH: It hit me I spent most of my time during my career the same way I spent my time on that ESPY stage, just feeling grateful. Just feeling grateful, grateful to be one of the only women to have a seat at the table. I was so grateful to receive any respect at all for myself that I also missed opportunities to demand equality for all of us. 

END CLIP

RUHLE: So you think that's the root of the problem, we're so psyched to have a seat at the table, we don't ask to be served? 

ZALIS: First of all, the word grateful. We don't need to be grateful. We are the best. We're amazing athletes. 

RUHLE: And be proud. 

ZALIS: We should be just so proud. It's not being grateful for a seat at the table, it's we deserve that seat at the table and we also deserve equal pay for equal work. I'm the cofounder of #seeher and doing so much from See Her Sports for women not only on the field, level the playing field, but also women in the business of sports. When you look at executives in Fortune 500 companies, 90% of CEOs have played sports. 

RUHLE: That’s True

ZALIS: That's power of team and team building and what we are learning, you know, from that. And what image. What message are we sending to our girls and our boys if we don't value women the same as men. 

RUHLE: It's time we have to do it, especially when they're winning games 13-0. Tiffany, Shellie, thank you both so much. 

 

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