U.S. Women’s soccer team sues for equal pay

The 1996 Olympic Games were held in Atlanta, but some of the soccer matches took place at RFK Stadium in Washington, D.C. I took our family to see a doubleheader — a women’s match between Brazil and Norway and a men’s match between Ghana and South Korea.

The two women’s teams were among the five best in the world at that time. The two men’s teams probably would have been rated no better the 25th. In addition, if memory serves, the women’s teams consisted of the nations’ best female players, while the men’s teams were comprised mainly of players age 23 years or younger.

When the Ghana-South Korea match commenced, I was stunned by the speed of play. These have to be the two fastest soccer teams I’ve ever seen, I thought.

Being slow on the update, it took a few minutes for me to realize that, yes, the players were fast, but they only seemed super-fast because I had just spent 90 minutes watching the women play.

The fact is that women’s soccer, though entertaining and altogether admirable, is inferior to men’s soccer. Women don’t run as fast, kick the ball as far or as forcefully, or (generally speaking) make the same kind of acrobatic plays.

Women’s soccer is less appealing to audiences. Men’s soccer leagues fill stadiums all over the world — even some in the U.S. these days. Women’s leagues play before small crowds and have struggled to survive in the U.S.

To me, these realities undermine the claim, asserted in a lawsuit just filed by the U.S. women’s national team, that team members have the right to be paid as much as their male counterparts on the U.S. men’s team. Sure, the women perform the same duties as the men. But the men who play Hamlet in local Shakespeare productions perform the same duties as the men who play him for the Royal Shakespeare Company. The latter actors get paid more because they perform the duties better and more people pay to see them.

It’s also true that the U.S. women’s team has had far more success at World Cups and Olympic Games than has the men’s team. This though, is a somewhat misleading boast. Not many countries take women’s soccer seriously enough to field strong national teams. By contrast, dozens of countries field strong men’s teams.

But even if there were as many serious female national teams as serious male national teams, the success of our women’s team wouldn’t matter for equal pay purposes. A minor league baseball team might well finish higher in the standings than its major league counterpart. The major leaguers still deserve to be paid more because they play better baseball and draw bigger crowds.

Barry Svrluga of the Washington Post says that both women and men play the sport of soccer (or try to) “at the highest level available.” Yes, the U.S. women are doing the best they can, perhaps fulfilling a higher percentage of their potential than the U.S. men. But they aren’t producing a brand of soccer that’s as good or as attractive to audiences as the men’s game.

Thus, it’s not discriminatory to pay the women less. (I take no position here as to whether the members of the women’s national team should be better compensated than they are. I’m arguing only that it isn’t discriminatory or unfair to pay them less than the men).

It’s not the women’s fault that they don’t play soccer as well as men. Biology is to blame. Biology is also to blame for the fact that the male actor who can best play Ophelia probably can’t play the part as well as dozens of female actresses can. Wherever the fault lies, the male actor need not be paid as much as the females if he takes on the role and does the best a man can do.

Svrluga frets that by paying women on the U.S. national team less than their male counterparts, we’re sending the message to girls that their work isn’t as valued as that of their boy classmates. But female work in nearly all walks of life is valued equally to male work (the “pay gap” data Srvluga cites is misleading and the gap itself arguably is largely mythical). Where pockets exist in which women are paid less than men for equal work of equal quality and value, the remedy is a meritorious lawsuit.

Soccer is not such a pocket.

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