The appeal of sporting competitions is evident across the country – owners of teams in the MLB, NFL, NBA, and NHL collect tremendous profits due to that ever-growing demand of entertainment in the sporting industry. But what about the WNBA, WNSL, and the NPF? If you have not heard of each of these professional leagues, perhaps it has to do with who plays in the leagues. The three latter examples are professional sports leagues for women and do not receive the same publicity as leagues that are featuring men as the athletes. This disparity between men’s and women’s professional sports has been present for decades in the United States, but there is one clear example that highlights the entire gap between genders in sports, and that is a dilemma within the United States Soccer Federation (USSF). The sport of soccer has grown rapidly since the late 1990s with the formation of Major League Soccer, and arguably even more so over the past two World Cups, but a widening gap is present between the men and women in one prime area: wages. Wage discrimination between genders has become a norm in many industries, and professional soccer is not exempt from it. Overall, the men’s national players are paid more for their representation on the national team than the women are paid, and members of the women’s team have started to take action. This essay will demonstrate that the women’s players deserve to receive similar pay to the men’s players due to the success of the women’s team, the revenues the women’s team brings in, and what the duties are considered to be for the USSF based on a deontological ethical viewpoint.
The United States Women’s National Team (USWNT) was founded in 1985, an entire century after the United States Men’s National Team (USMNT) in 1885. Despite the overall success since 1985, the USWNT has not seen the same support domestically as the USMNT, evidenced by fewer fans attending games, players receiving fewer brand sponsorships, and less network deals being completed. A discrepancy in pay has resulted with the men earning about four times more than their female counterparts in today’s game (Fagan, ESPNW).
Disappointed with the management of the USSF and how the organization views its women’s team in terms of pay recognition, five members of the 2016 USWNT decided to take action and file a wage discrimination suit against their employers. Hope Solo, Megan Rapinoe, Carli Lloyd, Becky Sauerbrunn, and Alex Morgan are attempting to make a major impact off the field by forcing the USSF to take morally-correct actions according to a deontological perspective through legal action. The women have often felt underappreciated and discriminated against based on their gender. With the search for equal pay, these five members have a strong supporting case that will allow the USSF to take ethically-appropriate actions regarding wages moving forward.
In the past, when U.S. Soccer had been mentioned, the men’s national team is usually what came to mind. The men’s team had received more publicity. With that publicity, the USMNT brought in plenty of revenue, and that is the reason why U.S. Soccer paid them more. And when the men dominate viewership, there certainly is a case to pay them more. However, things have changed, and it is time for the USSF to catch up and defeat this issue of wage discrimination.
Figure A: 2015 FIFA Women’s World Cup Bracket
It may have happened overnight, but the USWNT, mainly due to its 2015 World Cup success, has surpassed the USMNT in many statistical categories in regards to what their play on the field has done for the USSF. The USSF should utilize a deontological approach to make a decision on pay scales, and I believe the organization should consider the following when viewing the relationship between employer and employee: U.S. Soccer is expected to bring in a profit due to the USWNT’s performances, the women bring in more revenues than the men, the women have been more successful in international play, television viewership is higher for the women than the men, the attendance on site is greater for the women, and, as a whole, the USWNT is a more valuable asset for the USSF.
Entering 2016, the USSF had predicted a combined loss between both national teams for the year. However, the success of the USWNT at the 2015 World Cup raised that projection to $17.7 million of profit (Glock, ESPNW). Furthermore, the USWNT is expected to bring in $5 million in profit for 2017, while the USMNT will be $1 million in the red. Despite these overall projections, the women still earn a much smaller portion per game as compared to the men. Each woman only receives bonuses if they win the international friendlies they partake in – a measly $1,400 per victory. On the other hand, each man earns $17,600 for a victory. Even when defeated, the men earn 3.57 times more than their women counterparts had the women won their match. The USSF has no basis for attempting to have equal pay when you have the USMNT earning more for a loss than the USWNT earns for a victory; the USWNT has suffered through this continuously the past few decades. The USWNT did agree to this pay system with the USSF through a collective bargaining agreement in 2013, and even that agreement took longer than expected to be finalized (Lewis, NWSL). Tensions over pay scales have always flared, but it is fair to say that the women should honor their contract. However, when the agreement expires in late 2016, the USWNT should have ample opportunities to be paid adequately for the level of profits they bring to the USSF.
The Equal Employment Opportunity Commission filing goes further into the winnings for each team, stating that each woman would earn $99,000 if they won all 20 friendlies, the required minimum of friendlies for the team each year, while the men would earn around $263,320 for the same feat, and would still surpass $99,000 if they lost all 20 games. The USMNT receives between $5,000 and $17,625 for each game played beyond 20, while the women receive nothing extra (Fagan, ESPNW). Each team’s recent World Cup portrays the final piece of disparity in payment. The USMNT earned $9 million after winning one game. The USWNT, on the other hand, won the entire World Cup – and received just $2 million. FIFA may administer World Cup winnings, and wages are received also from club teams, but this issue goes even further beyond those sources of payment; the USSF is attempting to reap the benefits of the USWNT without paying its players appropriately.
Figure B: Comparison of Payment Between USMNT and USWNT
That level of success between the two squads highlights why the women deserve equal wage opportunities. Under a simple deontological analysis, it makes sense to argue that a worker should be paid based on performance in the workplace, and the USSF has a duty to follow that. This is no different, as the women have outperformed the men on the field while fulfilling a level of loyalty towards the USSF throughout the process. Based on that measurable success, revenue brought in by the USWNT has exceeded the USMNT for 2015 and thus far in 2016 based on viewership, attendance on sight, and television network deals. For television viewership, the USWNT’s World Cup Final versus Japan drew 25.4 million viewers, peaking at 30.9 million viewers, for a Nielsen rating of 15.2 (Banks, SportsBank). This made it the most watched U.S. soccer match in history, surpassing the USMNT’s highest total of 18.2 million viewers when the team played Portugal in the 2014 World Cup Group Stage by 39%. One could argue that the women received more viewers than the men only because it was the championship game, and that the men would have more viewers if they made it to the World Cup Final. However, the USMNT’s team has not made it to the final (in recent history), and so we can expect the women to receive a larger amount of viewers when the team’s success far outweighs the men’s success.
Not only has television viewership increased, but so has the attendance on site. In 2015, the USWNT registered total attendances of 595,841, compared to 521,699 for the USMNT (U.S. Soccer, 2016). For 2016, the USWNT currently have had 160,780 fans in attendance, which puts them on pace for 560,140 (it makes sense that 2016 is less than 2015 since 2015 was a World Cup year at the nearby location of Canada), which would be the second-highest attendance total since the United States hosted and won the Women’s World Cup in 1999. Overall, the USWNT had larger attendance totals than the USMNT in 1999, 2003, 2004, 2012, and 2015, and there is no doubt that this trend will continue to increase moving forward. Even looking at the near future, the USA-Japan women’s friendly in June in Colorado sold out in just ten minutes!
Lastly, the revenues brought in from television network deals recently and in the possible future help show why the women deserve to have equal payment. Overall, the USWNT generated $20 million more in revenue compared to the USMNT, and there was an enormous increase in television revenue through FoxSports. The $5.8 million brought in by ESPN in the 2011 World Cup was shattered in 2015 when FoxSports brought in $40 million. This is the only aspect discussed so far where the men have brought in higher rewards, as the 2014 Men’s World Cup had brought in well over $40 million for its television provider. Still, soccer is heading in a certain direction where the USWNT has the chance to grow. FoxSports has secured television rights for the next five World Cups between the men and women, and so the $40 million mark will most likely be surpassed in the near future.
The final aspect of the USWNT that I want to discuss before diving deeper into deontology is what the USWNT means to the USSF. The USWNT is a more valuable asset than the USMNT. The women’s success is there, the revenues brought in are there, and most importantly, the love for the sport of soccer has grown, and the USWNT has done a lot to fuel that change. They are fair to argue for equal treatment, especially with what the squad means for the USSF. Unfortunately, while the interest in soccer is growing, these issues of equal treatment continue to slow it down. Not only has there been unequal pay, but the playing conditions have been another issue to point to. The Women’s World Cup was played entirely on artificial turf; this caused stirs, and the men would never have been forced to play on artificial turf. So, it is evident that unequal treatment has become the status quo, but there is real opportunity for the USSF to take a new approach and make the necessary adjustments to do what is ethically correct.
General deontology revolves around duty, and what duties someone has towards others. As opposed to the focus on consequences in utilitarianism, a deontological viewpoint bases decisions on which values are right. Some of these factors could include honesty, promises, fairness, loyalty, human rights, justice, compassion, and respect (Trevino & Nelson, 91). The USSF surely has been honest throughout this process – it is not willing to pay the women as much as the men. And because of that, the USSF has not been loyal or shown respect to its employees, which does not coincide with a deontological approach. The men once may have deserved to earn more based on the viewpoint that revenue and popularity should determine payment, but now that those qualities do not favor the men any longer, the USSF has a duty to promote the loyalty and respect for all of its employees, and that could be enacted by paying the women equally for what they have given to the organization.
Sunil Gulati, the President of U.S. Soccer, might not consciously think about the universal principles and values he believes in each day, but U.S. Soccer should be setting a precedent. Women’s soccer is not well represented around the world, not nearly at the rate that men’s soccer is, but the United States believes it to be at the forefront of professional and youth female soccer. However, when Gulati knowingly decides that the women do not deserve to be paid as much, it shows the amount of focus he actually puts on the USWNT. He does not follow the duties that U.S. Soccer should hold itself to, and therefore, we can see how the USSF has not taken appropriate actions in equal treatment through a deontological approach.
Figure C: Sunil Gulati, President of U.S. Soccer
Overall, the USSF is a business, which makes them comparable to other companies who are trying to make profits. However, as an organization that represents the United States and thousands of people interested in the game of soccer, it is much more than just a company. Kant would argue that the rights of one party are generally related to the duties of another party. This is no exception; the women have the right to be paid fairly for their job performance, and the USSF has the duty to fulfill that duty and promise. There is a commitment between employer and employee, and so the USSF should be committing to what is right by promoting its women’s team and putting them on a similar level to the men. Agent-relative principles help portray the relationship that an employer has with its employees, and the USSF has not taken ethical actions within that relationship (Dougherty, 530).
Norman Bowie mentions that these duties that businesses follow are part of a ‘respect for persons’ principle, which explains how “any business practice that puts money on a par with people is immoral” (Bowie, 3). This is a very simplistic ideal under deontology, but it helps demonstrate how the USSF paying women fairly goes beyond just simple dollar numbers. It shows that the USSF respects its USWNT, believes them to be a valuable aspect of soccer, and shows that they want to invest in women’s soccer moving forward. Of course the dollar totals help quantify that, but Solo, Rapinoe, Lloyd, Sauerbrunn, and Morgan are looking for respect from their employee in the process, and those five believe that respect is part of the duty for any employer. Unfortunately, as we have discussed, the USSF has not adequately followed a deontological viewpoint to meet the duties expected of the organization.
Others have called out the USSF for not submitting to equal pay, such as Landon Donovan and Tim Howard of the USMNT (McKirdy, WYFF). Even the men’s team realizes that they are getting paid more to simply show up than the women do to win championships. But furthermore, this is not simply an issue for U.S. Soccer. We have seen similar issues between other sports such as basketball and tennis, and there are certainly some differences and similarities between the situations. Biases by the employer exist between genders, and even when done subconsciously, it results in a widening salary gap by gender. Professional tennis has seen this, where differences in talent have resulted in different pay scales (Kahn, 398). If one thinks of a business firm as a moral community and follows Kant’s third formulation of the categorical imperative, it can be seen how the USSF is not following the ideals that Kant proposes. Although a national soccer player might not be considered a low title for someone, they are still sovereign to the USSF, and it is fair to say that the members of the USSF would want the USWNT members to be paid more for their job performance, because they could have been in that position under the ideal kingdom assumption (Bowie, 10). Through this aspect of deontology, it can be seen how there is a duty for the USSF to demonstrate its commitment to the sovereign of its organization, and this would evidently be done through equal pay scales for the men and women.
This topic within U.S. Soccer can help highlight the entire policy area of wage discrimination, and how deontology shows that this gap is a result of these companies not fulfilling their duties to their employees. Under any collective bargaining agreement, the two sides ultimately agree to a payment deal that should be beneficial for everyone. Unfortunately, it is much easier for the larger company to bully its employees into accepting an unfair deal, and this is exactly what happens in many collective bargaining cases across the nation, resulting in discriminatory and unfair treatment. Payment is divided by gender all over the world, and if the United States wants to be at the forefront of fixing this issue, it should start to act soon. This action that needs to be taken directly fulfills any deontological duties for these firms, and that is why wage discrimination by gender is a very wide-reaching topic. Looking towards the future, the wage gap by gender does not always enter daily conversation, but understanding what duties we have towards each other can help these organizations realize that equal pay is the most ethical route to take.
Throughout this essay, I have discussed how the state of U.S. Soccer has shifted in recent history, and why the women of the national team deserve to be paid fairly. From the success of the team, to the revenues they bring in, to the interest brought upon them by fans, it is clear to see that the USSF should take action to invest in its female players. When a deontological approach is brought into play, the duties that the USSF has towards promoting respect and loyalty for the USWNT can largely be met by supplying equal payment. Moving forward, this policy area of wage discrimination can certainly become a larger issue, and eyes could certainly look towards the USSF if they decide to take appropriate action soon based on the organization’s own ethical ideals.
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