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US Soccer president Cordeiro apologizes to USWNT as equal pay dispute escalates

United States women's national team players pose for a team photo with their jersey's worn inside out during the SheBelieves Cup match between USA and Japan on March 11, 2020, at Toyota Stadium in Frisco, TX. (Credit: Getty Images)

United States Soccer Federation president Carlos Cordeiro was forced into a humbling apology to members of the US women’s national team as the equal pay dispute between the organization and players further escalated.

In the ongoing gender discrimination lawsuit, it emerged that US Soccer lawyers essentially argued that the women players do not deserve the same pay as their male counterparts as they are less skilled and have less responsibility.

“The point is that the job of MNT player (competing against senior men’s national teams) requires a higher level of skill, based on speed and strength, than does the job of WNT player (competing against senior women’s national teams),” the filing states.

The comments led to an immediate corporate backlash from US Soccer sponsors Coca-Cola, Budweiser, Nike, and Deloitte.

“We have asked to meet with them immediately to express our concerns. The Coca-Cola Co. is firm in its commitment to gender equality, fairness and women’s empowerment in the United States and around the world and we expect the same from our partners,” Coca-Cola told the Wall Street Journal.

“While our support for the team is unwavering,” a Deloitte spokesman told BuzzFeed News, “we are deeply offended by the views expressed by the USSF.”

“This ridiculous ‘argument’ belongs in the Paleolithic era,” said Molly Levison, a spokesperson for the players. “It sounds as if it has been made by a caveman. Literally everyone in the world understands that an argument that male players ‘have more responsibility’ is just plain, simple sexism and illustrates the very gender discrimination that caused us to file this lawsuit to begin with.”

Ahead of Wednesday’s SheBelieves Cup finale at Toyota Stadium in Frisco, Texas, USWNT players wore their warm-up shirts inside out, hiding the US Soccer crest, in protest.

As the backlash escalated, Cordeiro issued a public statement immediately following the 3-1 victory against Japan to apologize for the language used.

“On behalf of US  Soccer, I sincerely apologize for the offense and pain caused by language in this week’s court filing, which did not reflect the values of our Federation or our tremendous admiration of our Women’s National Team,” Cordeiro said. “Our WNT players are incredibly talented and work tirelessly, as they have demonstrated time and again from their Olympic Gold medals to their World Cup titles.

“Even as we continue to defend the Federation in court, we are making immediate changes. I have asked the firm of Latham & Watkins to join and guide our legal strategy going forward. I have made it clear to our legal team that even as we debate facts and figures in the course of this case, we must do so with the utmost respect not only for our Women’s National Team players but for all female athletes around the world. As we do, we will continue to work to resolve this suit in the best interest of everyone involved,” he said.

A number of USWNT expressed their anger and frustration afterwards.

“The team was very upset, obviously,” said superstar Megan Rapinoe. “We have sort of felt that those are some of the undercurrent feelings that they’ve had for a long time, but to see that as the argument – sort of blatant misogyny and sexism as the argument against us is really disappointing.

“I just want to say it’s all false. To every girl out there, to every boy out there, who watches this team, who wants to be on this team or just wants to live their dream out, you are not lesser just because you are a girl. You are not better just because you are a boy. We are all created equal and should have the equal opportunity to go out and pursue our dreams,” she said.

In March 2019, the USWNT filed a gender discrimination lawsuit against US Soccer in the search for better pay and working conditions, but talks between the two parties ended without resolution in August.

Last month, the USWNT filed a motion seeking more than $66m in financial damages and back pay. The federation, for its part, responded with its own motion to have the lawsuit dismissed entirely. A trial is set for May 5.

Attempts to reach a resolution remain ongoing, but the two sides appear as far apart as ever in their positions on the issue.

Meanwhile, Major League Soccer commissioner Don Garber issued a strong rebuke to Cordeiro.

“When I saw the media reports of US Soccer’s recent filing, I was shocked and angry. I expressed to the president of the Federation in no uncertain terms how unacceptable and offensive I found the statements in that filing to be,” Garber said in a statement. “I intend to immediately address this issue with the US Soccer Board of Directors.”

US Soccer vice president Cindy Cone tweeted: “I am hurt and saddened by the brief USSF filed. This issue means so much to me, but more broadly to all men & women and, more importantly, to little girls & boys who are our future. I disavow the troubling statements and will continue to work to forge a better path forward.”

Leading US soccer journalist Grant Wahl, of Sports Illustrated, has also called for Cordeiro to resign from his post over the way he has handled the situation.