fitness · soccer · team sports

Women’s soccer: questions of pay, politics and (mis)perceptions

The United States women’s national soccer team (USWNT) won the World Cup this year—their fourth. They played 20 games last year, posting 18 wins and two draws. The United State men’s national soccer team played 11 games last year, posting three wins, five losses and three draws. They failed to qualify for the 2018 World Cup.

1.Question of pay. is the USWNT paid equitably? By “equitably”, we could mean something like “paid the same as men’s professional soccer in accordance with”:

  • their win-loss record, compared to those of the men’ teams
  • their tournament play/record, compared to mens’ teams
  • the prize money offered in the tournaments they play in
  • prize money offered in professional soccer tournaments in general
  • revenues generated by league and tournament games
  • revenue generated by sponsorships, merchandise, viewership, etc.
  • I could go on

Yes, we know: economics is complicated. But do we have some idea of the answer? We do– the answer seems to be “no”. The USWNT is not paid in accordance with any of the above-listed measures. How do we know this? Here are some informative bits from articles I read (here and here and here).

US women’s soccer now has edged out US men’s soccer in terms of game revenue generated ($50.8M vs. $49.9M)

The US Soccer Federation sells broadcast ad sponsorship rights for the women’s and men’s teams together, so they haven’t provided information to separate out the revenue streams.

Nike’s highest-selling soccer jersey is the USWNT’s home jersey. Here it is:

The USNWT home soccer jersey-- white, with blue and red stripes on the sleeves, and logo on front. Also back view.
The USWNT home soccer jersey– white, with blue and red stripes on the sleeves, and logo on front. Also back view.

The USWNT is paid a guaranteed base salary, while the US men’s soccer team is paid in bonuses alone. However, the men are paid when they play (win or lose), so their annual pay depends on how many games they play in a year.

The total prize money for the women’s World Cup is about $30M, whereas the FIFA men’s World Cup prize money is around $400M.

The US men’s and women’s teams have different contracts under different collective bargaining agreements. The US men’s team has publicly stated its support for increased pay equity for US women’s soccer.

The USWNT has sued the US Soccer Federation for changes in their pay structures (read more about it here):

All 28 female players sued the U.S. Soccer Federation (USSF) — their employer — in U.S. District Court in March, alleging they are paid less than the men and are provided with less support, despite their consistent outstanding performance. The lawsuit also argues the team’s success has “translated into substantial revenue generation and profits” for USSF and “during the period relevant to this case, the WNT earned more in profit and/or revenue than the MNT.”

The soccer federation denied the claims in the women’s lawsuit, arguing in a May court filing that the pay differential between the men and women players is “based on differences in aggregate revenue generated by the different teams and/or any other factor other than sex” and that the two teams are “physically and functionally separate organizations.”

The Washington Post, in the article I cited above, goes into much more detail, but their conclusion is this:

Are the women players paid less? Sometimes. When the female players have appeared to make about the same or more money, they’ve had to turn in consistently outstanding performances on the world stage. Even with those feats, earning the same amount as the men’s soccer players was near-impossible under the previous collective-bargaining agreement.

The new agreement has provisions that may reduce the difference in bonuses for friendly games and tournaments, but there is — without question and for whatever reasons — still a massive gap between men’s and women’s World Cup bonuses.

2.Question of politics. Is the question of the USWNT’s pay becoming a nasty political fight? That one’s easy.

Yes indeedy!
Yes indeedy!

Prominent Democratic politicians have not just tweeted support, but in fact introduced legislation requiring that US Soccer pay women’s and men’s teams equally. In response, the US Soccer Federation hired two lobbying firms to present a case that the women’s teams are not paid inequitably. Groups are battling over the numbers, which (as I pointed out above) are complicated. So far the lobbyists are working on Capital Hill but haven’t registered yet (they are required to register within 45 days of beginning work). The lobbyists and US Soccer say they are trying to give accurate information, and the USWNT say that the lobbyists and US Soccer are trying to derail legislation and mislead legislators. Politico reported the following interchange:

...one of the lobbyists representing U.S. Soccer — Ray Bucheger, a former Democratic congressional staffer who’s now a partner at FBB — told a Democraticcongressional staffer late last month that one of the bills could jeopardize the country’s chances of hosting future Women’s World Cups, according to a person familiar with the conversation. Bucheger declined to comment.

3.Question of (mis)perception. It is, sadly, true that lots of people hold women’s sports in lower esteem than men’s sports. And there are loads of reports and surveys and studies that show that non-professional-athlete men think they are as good or better athletes as world-class professional women athletes. You have no doubt seen the survey, published here, that 1 in 8 men in the UK surveyed believed they could take a point off tennis titan Serena Williams.

Serena's bullet serve, meme saying "I'd really like to see them try".
Yeah. Me, too.

In the comments section of this article (I know, don’t read the comments ever, but I’m doing this for blog research purposes) I saw exactly this same view: some people said that the USWNT were less good soccer players than mediocre men’s professional teams. Some cited a 2017 scrimmage with a US Soccer development program under-15 boys’ team (that the USWNT graciously did to teach the boys some techniques) in which the final score was 5-2 in favor of the boys’ team. You can read the real story here. You also might be interested to hear that in 2017 (maybe encouraged by the USWNT’s participation?) US Soccer added some girls’ development soccer teams (finally).

Other commenters said that this is the way of all women’s sports, that professional women athletes pale in comparison with (most? all?) male athletes in terms of performance. So it’s okay to pay them less and think less of them as athletes (or not to think of them as athletes, period).

REALLY?!

Person taking in a long breath, with caption "using deep breathing to calm down".
Let’s all take a deep breath now.

Responding to this general claim– that women just aren’t as good/strong/interesting athletes as men– takes a lot of hard work. Scholars and activists and athletes have been and are currently spending their careers responding in a bunch of ways. Some of those ways include:

  • carefully documenting and framing the comparative histories of sports and athletic development programs for boys and girls, pointing out the myriad disparities girls experience in everything from resources to coaching to goals to opportunities to social support, etc.
  • framing and revealing the historical and social contexts in which girls and women interested in physical activity/athletics are treated; in short, it’s not good.
  • providing context for the ways media coverage of women athletes treats and judges their athletic performance, I blogged about the juggernaut UConn women’s basketball team, stuck between a rock and a hard place– media criticized them for being too good and messing up the sport. Really. Read about it here.

What I hope and even expect is that, with increased support and programming, society’s perceptions of girls and boys and men and women as athletes will change. Then we will be able to see and value girls and women as the athletes they are and can be.

Readers– what do you think about our current atmosphere of sports development and outlets for girls and women? Any stories or ideas or suggestions you want to share would be most welcome.

A girl, throwing a heater over the plate.
A girl, throwing a heater over the plate.
fitness · Guest Post · soccer

Let’s talk about “mom sports” (Guest post)

by Sarah Skwire

“Mom sports” were recently excoriated in the pages of the Washington Times in connection with a rantthat tagged soccer as a “liberals’ sport” and “not a real sport” and worst of all “a mom sport.”

No explicit definition of “mom sport” was given in the article, but it is suggested that such sports are the ones that believe in participation trophies, a low barrier to entry, and getting the kids out of the house on a Saturday.

Reading the article, I sighed heavily and clicked rapidly away. It was, after all, just one more idiotic dismissal of things that women do as trivial, silly, and dumb. If you’ve seen one (and who hasn’t?), you’ve seen them all.

But as I drove from my office to my taekwondo dojang to assist in instructing a beginner’s class, I started to think about all the moms whose kids I help train, and all the moms I train alongside.

These moms (and dads, of course, but no sport has ever been denigrated by being called a “Dad sport”) get their kids to the dojang to train at least two times a week, some of them twice that or more. They wash uniforms and make sure everyone has their gear. They soothe nerves before competitions and tests for new belts. They put bandaids on feet that didn’t manage to break the board that time. They practice Korean vocabulary. They learn to tie belts properly, remind their kids to bow, bring food for picnics, race home early from work to get everyone to class, shuttle kids to tournaments, and show up for everything.

And if they are taekwondo students as well as moms of taekwondo students (and a lot of us are), they do all of that while learning their own material, worrying about their own board breaks and tests and competitions, dying inside when their kids are reprimanded in class, and wrangling all the physical and mental challenges of being a middle aged martial artist.

The moms at my dojang who want to become black belts will have to be able to perform 20 set kicking combinations, 30 self defense moves, and 20 Hapkido (grappling) moves. They will need to know and be able to perform 10 poomsae (forms). They will need to be at a level of conditioning that will allow them to engage in several rounds of one on one sparring, and a round or two of two on one sparring. They will need to break 3 boards at once with a single back kick. (That’s about 2.25” of wood.)

But before they even get to that test, they will need to show up, day after day after day, to train. They’ll need to come in when they don’t want to, or when their kids don’t want to, or when they were up until 2 am working on their real job. They’ll need to leave the dojang and go home, and often they will then be the one who makes dinner and supervises homework and bath time and bedtime.

And on the way home, they’ll pass some fool who can’t pass any part of that test and who probably hasn’t done anything more athletic since junior high school than watch other people play sports on television. And that person will tell them that taekwondo isn’t a real sport, or that they had no idea that taekwondo was really just a “mom sport.”

“Mom” is not an insult.

Sports that moms do, and sports that moms support, are not trivial, silly, or unimportant. Neither are the moms who do them.

Sarah Skwire is a Senior Fellow at Liberty Fund and Senior Editor at AdamSmithWorks.com. Her academic research primarily considers the intersections between literature and economics, but ranges widely from early modern material to popular culture. She and her daughters will test for their second degree black belts in taekwondo in October of 2019.

beauty · femalestrength · feminism · soccer · stereotypes

Sweat First, Glow Later

I was talking to a woman the other day about that wonderful feeling of working up a good sweat on a run, when she interrupted me to say, “You mean glow, not sweat.” Aack. I remember the expression from growing up. Horses sweat.Men perspire. But women merely glow. And no, I absolutely did not mean glow when I said sweat. I didn’t even mean perspire. 

Woman’s face illuminated in glowing sparkles.
H Heyerlein on Unsplash

In fact, I really, really meant sweat. The idea that women should only glow obstructs our progress, keeps us docile, fragile and dependent, and interferes with our strength. Can you tell I hate that expression? Even if it’s used as a euphemism, I don’t like what it implies. 

Back in the days when I practiced law, I would often go to the gym at lunch (in the same building as my office, because they liked to keep us close). I didn’t have a lot of time, so I’d make the most of the Stairmaster (my fave workout then) and arrive back at the office still red in the face. My office mate was perplexed. Why did I want to get so overheated? Answer—I loved the feeling. Secondary answer—I was working in a shark tank and needed an outlet for the pressure. Fast forward more than twenty-five years, I still love to sweat, even though I’ve bailed out of the shark tank. I love giving everything I’ve got, leaving it all on the road. To reach for an ambitious goal, to try as hard as we can, to go for it; that kind of effort requires sweat, metaphorical for sure and very possibly actual salty drops on our skin. The notion that women should only glow (which we know was meant not just actually, but also metaphorically) is offensive. The fact that science says women sweat less than men is a biological fact, not a matter of Victorian etiquette.

What happens if we try so hard that we break a sweat? What are the purveyors of that expression scared of? Our potential? Our strength? That expression (I will not repeat it) contains an implicit criticism of female effort as unladylike (you can imagine how much I love that word, too). The expression says to women, “You should not have ambition, or if you do, you must go about achieving your dream in a seemingly effortless fashion.” Ambition is not effortless. Why would we even want it to be? Then we wouldn’t have the satisfaction of achievement; the desire to spread our arms in a glorious moment of woohoo. 

Megan Rapinoe with arms outspread in the World Cup stadium

Speaking of which, I’ve noticed multiple pictures of US soccer star Megan Rapinoewith arms outspread in a defiantly powerful pose. I realized that I was judging her as a little arrogant with that pose and even though you didn’t know that until I told you just now, I’m going to take back that thought. Women don’t get as physically expressive about their personal victories as their male counterparts. Look at how Brandi Chastain was pilloried in 1999 for taking her shirt off in a moment of exultation when she scored the penalty kick to win the World Cup. She’s framed that sports bra and hung it on her wall. As I write this, the US team has won their semi-final game and is slated to play in the final the day after this piece publishes. Rapinoe didn’t play the game, because of a hamstring injury. I hope she plays on Sunday and that she has cause to spread her arms wide with triumph.

Let’s all spread our arms just a little more often, even and especially if we’re wearing a sweaty sports bra. Chances are we will be glowing for the rest of the day!

advertising · fitness · motivation · soccer · team sports

It may be an ad, but “Dream Further” inspires and uplifts

Did you know that the FIFA Women’s World Cup is happening right now, in France, from June 7th to July 7th?

The latest Nike ad, released on the eve of the women’s World Cup of Soccer, is a heart-pumping, rousing ad that celebrates women’s soccer through the eyes of a child with an exciting dream. As the article “Nike’s New Ad Is a Celebration of Badass Women’s Soccer Players, and We’re Studying Up” says: “The commercial is a who’s who of talented women’s soccer players, from the United States’ Crystal Dunn to Brazil’s Andressa Alves, introducing you to the stars you’ll see in the upcoming FIFA Women’s World Cup. The real star of the show, though, is Makena Cooke, a 10-year-old soccer player from California.”

In the 3:00 commercial, we follow Makena Cooke running, kicking, falling, cheering, and even scoring alongside the very best of the FIFA women’s World Cup soccer rosters from all over the world. It’s an exciting ad that is sure to lift your spirit.

It might make you want to watch the world-class women’s soccer that the World Cup has to offer. It might make you want to kick a ball around yourself. It might make you want to cry (a few people reported that it made them emotional).

Whatever it might make you want to do, here it is.

Nike Dream Further commercial.

Enjoy! (I’m keeping my Saucony’s though)

fitness · soccer

Good news/bad news: women’s sports award edition

Who knows what the Ballon D’or is?  Well, I took high school French, so I would guess it is the balloon of gold.  But I would be wrong.  It’s the Ball of Gold award, given by FIFA (International Football  Association Federation) to the best World player of the year. The good news is that this woman– Ada Hegerberg of Norway–  won the first Ballon D’or recognizing women’s professional soccer.

Norwegian soccer player Ada Hegerberg holding the Ballon D'or that she won this year.
Norwegian soccer player Ada Hegerberg holding the Ballon D’or that she won this year.

Yay Ada! Yay women’s soccer/football!  Yay strikers! Yay women’s sports! 

But now comes the bad news, which I’ll let the Washington Post (experts in delivering bad news) tell you:

Accepting the Ballon d’Or was supposed to be Hegerberg’s moment. Instead, just minutes after she concluded a heartfelt speech in which she encouraged young girls to “please believe in yourselves,” Hegerberg was approached by French disc jockey Martin Solveig, the event’s host, who had a bizarre query.

“Do you know how to twerk?” Solveig asked in French. Clearly uncomfortable, Hegerberg shook her head and responded with a terse “no,” before appearing to attempt to leave the stage.

Yes, that’s right: some guy who was hosting the event, instead of praising her or asking her about soccer/football, asks a crude sexual leering question, completely deflating her Ballon D’or.  Really? Ewwwwww!

I’m happy to report a little bit more good news, though: there’s been a huge media outcry about how gross and disgusting and sexist this guy’s comment was (he deserves no more mention of his name, in my view), and a bunch of professional athletes have issued spirited and strong messages of support. Well, good– it’s no more than Hederberg deserves, and I’m glad people have her back. 

In addition, the press was all over this story, and it was gleefully reported by all the major world news outlets from the BBC   (which reported it at first as “an awkward moment”), the New York Times to Glamour to Business Insider, which published a story that was really about how upset tennis star Andy Murray was about the twerking comment… Sigh…

But there’s more bad news, which none of the articles I read talked about (although it’s on video). After responding “no” to the twerking invitation, the DJ twerk-asking guy,, some other male host, and I guess the producers of the show all conspired to create a happy ending:  they played a Frank Sinatra song, and Hederberg very reluctantly and briefly danced with Solveig before leaving the stage. Interviewed later, Hederberg said she didn’t consider his comment to be sexual harassment, and she posed with him for a picture he posted on Twitter.

Hegerberg posing with misogynistic Dj guy, touching part of his hand. Will she never be rid of this jerk?
Hegerberg posing with misogynistic Dj guy, touching part of his hand. Will she never be rid of this jerk?

I won’t dignify the DJ guy’s non-apology by discussing it. But suffice it to say, everyone was called upon to scramble to create a rapprochement (a word I didn’t learn in high school French) between them.  And Hegerberg was required to do all of the heavy lifting, all of the emotional labor,  and perform all of the actions to create a pretense of bonhomie (I am totally on a French-word roll here) which had to be exhausting and sad. This is much more draining than playing in a World Cup match, I bet.

What I wish had happened was this: when gross sexist DJ worm guy asked her if she could twerk, she had said, “no, but I do know how to do this”.  And she would have done what she knows oh so well how to do, which is kick balls with strength and accuracy.  Like so:

Hederberg winding up for a big strong kick-- she is a superb striker, after all.
Hederberg winding up for a big strong kick– she is a superb striker, after all.

After hitting her mark, then the whole audience could’ve risen to its feet, yelling:

GOOOOOOAL!
GOOOOOOOOAL!

That’s an athletic performance I’d like to have seen, one worthy of another Ballon D’or. 

aging · athletes · meditation · running · soccer

I Had A Midlife Crisis and Didn’t Realize It At The Time

Extreme Athleticism is The New Mid-Life Crisis provoked me to wonder if a series of ultra-running events I did when was 44-45 were motivated by fear of aging.

At the time they felt organic. Not like I was trying to outrun my aging or shore myself up for the years to come, as the article suggests. More like I had been trail running for some years, enjoying increasingly longer distances and then thought, “Could I run one of those ultra distances?”

To be clear—I’ve never run more than a 50k, though the trails add challenge to that distance. The longest event, time-wise, was in Cape Town, South Africa. Three Peaks Challenge runs up and down the three smallish mountains that push that city toward the sea: Devil’s Peak, Table Mountain and Lion’s Head. That 50k run took me 9 hours.

mina 2
Mina running down rocky steps on Table Mountain in Cape Town

I went into the longer distances as someone who had run marathons, done half-ironman triathlons and even the Canadian Ski Marathon a couple of times (a two-day, 100-mile cross-country ski). I wasn’t a stranger to the borderline extreme.

Yet, before I did any ultra-runs, I thought that anyone who undertook such an endeavor was trying to avoid something they didn’t want to think about (not just aging). Even when I did the ultras, I felt like the extremes I participated in were just the right length. Anything longer had a whiff of desperation. Yes, that was highly subjective, probably wildly inaccurate and judgmental. I was thinking like that old joke about the driver who thinks everyone driving slower is an old grandpa and everyone driving faster is a danger-on-wheels. (A side note: Who decides what’s extreme? One person’s extreme may be another’s daily dose in these times of ever more punishing activities.)

If you’re getting the feeling that I’m avoiding the question I opened with. You’re right. Until I wrote this, I didn’t want to think that I had a mid-life crisis (more judgment). Looking back now (at a distance of seven years), I see that maybe I was. I had published two books and still felt like a struggling writer. My marriage was not in the best period. I was looking for some way to feel special and strong. When I finished ultras, I felt invincible.

My foray into ultra-running was sidelined by Morton’s neuroma, a nerve inflammation that feels how I imagine an electric cattle prod applied to the ball of my foot would feel. I finally had surgery to remove the neuroma about 18 months ago.

Summer 2017 was my first back running in the mountains. I was cautious (and elated just to be running at all without extraordinary pain). This past summer, I did quite a few 3 to 4 hour runs, including the Sierra Crest 30k I wrote about in this post: Compare and Despair. As I was training, I kept asking myself, “Do I want to be doing more of these longer runs? Do I want to aim for another 50k or even something longer?” Right now, the answer is no.

Unless I live quite a long time, I’m probably past mid-life. Is that why I don’t feel a zeal for the extreme? According to the Medium article I mentioned at the top prime time for the uptick in extreme athletics is 40-49. I hate the thought that I’m not doing the extreme runs anymore because I’m too old or I can’t. Anyhow, I know that’s not true.

Have I accepted my mortality? I’d like to think that I have after much meditation (plus silent retreats, plus a vision quest), but I’m also sure that I have not achieved such equanimity.

What I do have are other challenges on my plate—finishing my book, my first ensemble play being produced at University of Illinois Urbana-Champaign in March 2019. I don’t feel like I need the extra scare of an ultra run on the horizon, too. I’m enjoying my sleep and time to read novels on the couch on the weekend with my partner.

I’m happy. I don’t feel like I need to prove to myself that I’m strong. I am.

But … I also love running for long stretches of time in the mountains or forest. Another ultra-run is not out of the question. So, if I’m not in midlife anymore, then maybe I wasn’t running far because of a crisis in the first place.

What about you? Have you had or are you in the midst of a mid-life crisis? What does that look like for you?

Guest Post · soccer

Society Empowerment through Sport (Guest Post)

Sport has the power to change the world.  It has the power to inspire. It has the power to unite people in a way that little else does.  Sport can awaken hope where there was previously only despair.  Sport speaks to people in a language they can understand.  –Nelson Mandela, 25 May 2000

Oyugis is a town of about 10,000 in a rural part of western Kenya.  The vast majority (72%) live in poverty.  Only 5.6% of the households have piped water; 3.3% have electricity.  HIV/AIDS is rampant: 25.7% of the county (Homa Bay) population is infected (the highest rate in Kenya) and 61,000 households include an orphan.  This has a profound impact on the community – 48% of the population is under 15.

The conditions are especially difficult for women and girls. 12% of girls have a live birth before age 15.  Most primary schools (K-8) in the region do not have toilets, so when girls reach puberty, most stop attending school.  Sanitary products are not available.  As the statistics indicate, many of these girls end up pregnant and with HIV/AIDS. What might one hope to do in such circumstances?  How is change even conceivable?  Soccer.

I met Festus Juma in 2010.  He deeply understands the power of sport for community development.  Having family in the Oyugis region, he also understands the power of soccer to motivate local youth.  Festus directs the Society Empowerment Project (SEP), based in Oyugis, which leverages soccer/football to teach life skills in areas such as HIV/AIDS prevention; health and sanitation; agriculture & nutrition; reproductive health; peace building; and substance abuse.  Girls, in particular, gain opportunities to become fit and strong, to build friendships, and have contact with adult role models.  The program also prepares them for youth leadership through training in coaching, refereeing and tournament management.

A current goal of the SEP is to register a girls team in the Kenya Premier League.  Doing so will enhance their status in the region.  Stronger and better educated girls and women will reduce domestic violence, improve reproductive health and well-being, and decrease HIV/AIDS infections.  This is a proven strategy for community development and it changes lives.

Together with my son Isaac, I have been working with the SEP since 2011.  Isaac played soccer through high school.  Seeing a photo of children in Oyugis playing soccer barefoot on dirt patches, he was shocked by the comparison with his teammates who had several pairs of cleats and fancy uniforms.  We began to collect used cleats, uniforms, and other equipment to send to Kenya.  (The team featured on the SEP facebook page is wearing Boston Blast jerseys!)  It is not cheap to send equipment to Kenya.  It is not easy to build a sustainable program that empowers girls in a region where not even food and water is easily available.  But sport motivates and strengthens those who participate.  And it awakens hope.

 

You can reach Festus at: festus.juma@yahoo.com and he can provide information about how you can send used (or new!) equipment to the SEP, and about other ways to help.  Donations can be made on the SEP website.

Sally Haslanger is Ford Professor of Philosophy and Women’s & Gender Studies at MIT.  She works on feminist and critical race theory.  She is an adoptive mother, a social activist, and recently was client of the month at her gym!

 

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