How Politicians and the Media Failed the USWNT
In 2019 the U.S. women’s national soccer team captivated the nation. They dominated their competition on their way to winning the World Cup and in the process made fun of the Brits in an episode that Piers Morgan and others across the pond tried to turn into an international incident thus uniting the nation in it’s two favorite traditions: hating on Piers Morgan and dunking on his native England.
But off the field the team also became a cause celebre for left-wing politicians and the news media. It was alleged that the WNT were the victims of pay discrimination and a lawsuit was filed to that effect. The contention was that the women’s team, which dominates on the field, is paid less than the men’s team which… doesn’t.
Friday evening saw their lawsuit dismissed. Here’s how it was reported by the AP:
A federal judge threw out the unequal pay claim by players on the U.S. women’s national soccer team in a surprising loss for the defending World Cup champions but allowed their allegation of discriminatory working conditions to go to trial.
It was only “surprising” if you failed to do basic research and ask basic questions.
As Judge Gary Klausner wrote in his opinion:
The history of negotiations between the parties demonstrates that the WNT rejected an offer to be paid under the same pay-to-play structure as the MNT, and the WNT was willing to forgo higher bonuses for benefits, such as greater base compensation and the guarantee of a higher number of contracted players.
Accordingly, plaintiffs cannot now retroactively deem their CBA worse than the MNT CBA by reference to what they would have made had they been paid under the MNT’s pay-to-play terms structure when they themselves rejected such a structure.
Asking a judge to say there is discrimination afoot when comparing apples and oranges is impossible. The fact that the WNT and MNT had different CBAs with different incentive and guarantee structures was not a secret. But, the narrative was more important.
Politicians and certain journalists jumped on the story as proof that the pay gap was real. We conservatives always told our left-wing friends that their concern about the supposed pay gap was ill-founded, because pay discrimination is already illegal under the Equal Pay Act of 1963, so if you could prove it in an individual example, you have a federal course of action.
Well, here was an example. Not only did the WNT do equal work, they did superior work to their male counterparts and were still discriminated against. As a brief aside World Cup earnings are also taken from revenue generated throughout the world, not just the U.S., and the men’s tournament is a much greater money maker for FIFA than the women’s. You may not like it, but it’s the reality.
But, nobody was willing to confront the WNT with this most elementary counterargument. The WNT was drawn into an echo chamber where they were told not just how great they were on the field, but how brave they were off it, how inspirational their legal battle was to young girls and so on.
Politicians and media personalities who were predisposed to believe that the gender pay gap is real told the WNT how awesome they were and the team believed in its own awesomeness. They started to believe that not only were they world class soccer players, but they were some sort of great civil rights leaders and that anybody who said “wait a minute, let’s look take a moment and have a dispassionate look at this” was a denier at best or a product of a bygone era where women were second class citizens at worst. It was textbook confirmation bias.
Nobody was willing to say them that they are adults with human agency who made a choice to go with a different CBA and now want it both ways.
Ironically, the WNT argued they should be treated equally and Judge Klausner, by not giving them special treatment, agreed.