'LFG' Documentary's 5 Most Shocking Revelations on the Pro Soccer Pay Gap
Documentary on the US Women’s National Team’s fight for equal pay is now streaming on HBO Max
“LFG” is the latest example of how women must work twice as hard to earn just a fraction of the respect — and in this case, the money — that their male counterparts get. The new documentary, named after a pre-game rallying cry (“let’s f—ing go”), follows the U.S. Women’s National Soccer Team as all 28 players sue their own federation in demand of equal pay.
The team filed the lawsuit in March 2019, less than three months before the World Cup victory that would cement their status as the most successful team in women’s soccer and render the wage gap an unavoidable issue. Although the lawsuit was partially settled last year, “LFG” asserts the fight is far from over.
Ahead of USWNT’s hotly anticipated appearance at the Tokyo Olympics this summer, check out some of the biggest revelations from their battle off the field.
1. The U.S. Women’s Team out-earned the men — but only by being far, far better
Yes, the U.S. Women’s Team has technically out-earned the U.S. Men’s Team. But they had to play (and win) far more games to do so.
“LFG” presents a number of staggering statistics reflecting the disparity in compensation at every level of American soccer. For each game won, men get higher bonuses than the women: $17,625 versus $8,500. For simply qualifying for the World Cup, they bag more money as well: $2,500,000 versus the women’s $750,000. The men’s team earns $5,625,000 for advancing in the World Cup, whereas the women make $0 for proceeding to the semi-finals. For winning the World Cup, the men make $9,375,000 and the women make $2,530,000. Lastly, the prize money awarded to the winning federations was $30 million for the women in 2019 and $400 million for the men in 2018.
The documentary also makes a point of showing the vast discrepancies in other key areas besides compensation, such as travel, lodging and training resources.
Even with the financial odds stacked against them, the USWNT made more money than the men’s team — but only by winning three World Cups and four Olympic gold medals.
“We had to be wildly successful to out-earn our male counterparts,” center back Becky Sauerbrunn said. “It’s not fair.”
2. Some female soccer pros live paycheck to paycheck
Jessica McDonald, a forward who joined the national team for the 2019 FIFA World Cup, is a three-time pro champion and a two-time NCAA champion. Even so, she said she was “scraping pennies for the past seven years” just to support herself and her young son, even coaching a children’s team on the side to make ends meet.
“I had friends who were waitresses who were making three times as much as me in a year,” McDonald said. “And me being a professional athlete, still to this day I think it’s unacceptable.”
Later in the doc, other players corroborated that many women in the big leagues wind up retiring in their early 20s due to their inability to make a living off the sport they love.
3. The Women’s Team generates more revenue and higher ratings
A common argument among those who oppose equal pay for female athletes is that they don’t attract the same amount of eyeballs and dollars as their male counterparts. But at least in American soccer’s case, that claim is total BS.
The documentary cites audited financial statements from the U.S. Soccer Federation obtained by The Wall Street Journal in 2019, which found that between 2016 and 2018, the U.S. Women’s National Team netted $50.8 million in revenue, whereas the men’s team brought in $49.9 million.
The higher revenue is backed by higher viewership, too. In the United States, the ladies’ latest World Cup final boasted 22% more viewers than the men’s. According to a statement from Fox Sports, citing data from Nielsen, approximately 14.3 million U.S. viewers tuned in to the 2019 Women’s World Cup championship, compared to the 11.4 million who watched the same match in the 2018 Men’s World Cup.
In fact, the most-viewed soccer game in American history is the 2015 Women’s World Cup, which drew a whopping 25,400,000 viewers.
4. The U.S. Soccer Federation hired lobbying firms to sway Congress against its own players…
The U.S. Soccer Federation (USSF) enlisted two lobbying firms to peddle the narrative that their female players are not underpaid to Congress, which was confirmed by multiple outlets at the time of filming.
The firms, FBB Federal Relations and Vann Ness Feldman, were hired in response to a bill introduced by Sens. Dianne Feinstein and Pat Murray that intended to amend the U.S. Code to require equal pay for men’s and women’s national athletic teams.
“This is a new all-time low,” USWNT captain Megan Rapinoe said upon learning the news. “Like, really, you’re the governing body of a nonprofit organization for soccer in this country and you’re lobbying against equal pay. That’s wild.”
5. …and they argued that women are biologically inferior
Of all the many damning statements cited in the documentary, this one from the USSF is perhaps the most egregious. During the 2020 SheBelieves Tournament, the federation’s legal arguments were made public, which relied on outdated gender stereotypes — in a gender discrimination case.
The federation claimed that “skeletal structure, muscle composition” and overall “indisputable science” backed a decreased capability of athleticism in women, therefore justifying their lower pay.
“The job of MNT (Men’s National Team) players requires a higher level of skill based on speed and strength than does the job of WNT (Women’s National Team) player,” the statement read.
Players described the released arguments as “a slap in the face” and “soul-crushing.”
Of course, the team proved the misogynistic statements wrong, winning the SheBelieves championship. USSF President Carlos Cordero resigned just days after, claiming he was not aware of the federation’s actions in court. The lawyers on the case were fired and replaced with another law firm that then withdrew the defense. However, as of May 2020, the USSF has yet to agree to compensate the U.S. Women’s National Team equally.
“LFG” is now streaming on HBO Max.
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