Women’s soccer “equal pay” film LFG review: WTF?

Beau Dure
Beau Dure
Jun 18 · 6 min read
Photo by Eric TERRADE on Unsplash

I wrote about 2,400 words explaining why I feel compelled to write pieces like the one I just did for Soccer America on the women’s team and the pay dispute.

I did some editing and whittling to try to make this digestible.

Look, I’ve covered all this before. So many times, in fact, that I forgot until this morning that I once did an all-encompassing guide on the matter.

In a just world, that would’ve been my final say on the matter.

But with the release of a film called LFG that takes such a one-sided view of the issue that it ends up discrediting itself, I had to write again.

To sum up the personal part of it quickly: I’ve been covering women’s soccer for more than two decades, including times when no one else was watching, to the detriment of my career. I also have OCD, which manifests itself in the occasional tic, the occasional intrusive thought that makes me think I’m dying or that something horrible is about to happen, and a perpetual need to correct the record.

Because boy does this film make a mess of the record.

Yes, I watched it. I felt duty-bound to do so. I fast-forwarded in a couple of places, but I feel confident that I didn’t skip anything that delved into a nuanced discussion of how the men’s contract and the women’s contract ended up in different places or how FIFA’s discriminatory bonuses make it impossible for the federation to pay the women what they’re seeking and that the only way to reach “equal pay” would be to tear up the men’s contract.

Instead, I saw …

… an opening announcement that U.S. Soccer refused to sit down for an on-camera interview. The truth, from multiple sources in and out of the federation, is that the filmmakers waited a long, long time to call upon the fed or anyone who might spoil the narrative, and they set conditions that effectively asked Cindy Cone to walk into an ambush. If I’m Cindy Cone, I walk into that ambush, do my best verbal judo and then make a press release of everything the filmmakers cut. But I understand why she and any other well-situated U.S. Soccer representative felt otherwise.

… inconsistent arguments. “The men get paid more, even though we’re better. Oh, wait — we get paid more, but only when we win a lot more.”

… the usual cherry-picking, selecting specific years and claiming revenue superiority over the men, then picking out one game rather than a trend for TV ratings, etc. Note that WNT lawyers and spokespeople tend to forget about Spanish-language coverage, and the lack of diversity on the WNT over the years is something toward which the federation really should be devoting some resources if they have any left over after paying lawyers and settlements.

… Megan Rapinoe. Walking. Checking her phone. Sitting. The only sports film I can think of that’s more highly fixated on one person is the film of David Beckham sleeping.

… irony. The team basking in the glory of the SheBelieves Cup, an event U.S. Soccer started to give the team better competition and better promotion. Molly Levinson, who runs interference shielding the women from tough questions, complaining about the federation not being open.

… misleading claims of poverty. Jessica McDonald’s story is just as devoid of context in the film as it is in the trailer. The implication is that she still lived paycheck to paycheck not while playing only in the NWSL, which would be an interesting topic to explore, but after becoming a full-fledged member of the national team, even after earning hundreds of thousands in the World Cup year of 2019. Similarly, Rapinoe frets about making a living playing soccer, though the federation paid her $171,140 in the year ending March 31, 2019, before the World Cup. On the 990 form from the prior year, but at least four of her teammates cleared $250,000. On the most recent 990, for the year ending March 31, 2020, five of her teammates made at least $470,000.

… more shots fired in the gender war. After it’s noted that the men didn’t qualify for the last World Cup, the filmmakers tack on a sound effect of someone saying, “oooooooohhh!” Oh, snap. The next Athletes Council meeting should be interesting.

One thing surprised me. The 13–0 rout of Thailand in the World Cup is painted as “making a statement.” Of what? Of the fact that the U.S. women have many more resources than Thailand? Of the fact that Asian soccer is so far behind that this team qualified for the Cup? Why would they want to point out how much less parity exists in the women’s game than in the men’s?

One other thing popped into my head toward the end of the film, and it’s disturbing:

Is the team now backed into a corner?

“Everybody’s looking to you to fight it,” Levinson says. Lawyer Jeff Kessler says something similar.

Will this team’s backers accept anything more than total victory?

The women themselves might understand that taking $67 million from the federation would mean stripping money away from coaching education, referee education, the Open Cup, diversity programs, the Paralympic team, grant programs, the youth national teams and other programs designed to build the game for future generations. Even the most cynical federation watchdog would have to concede that some of that money is well spent and that they could and should spend more — more diversity programs, more Spanish-language outreach, a stronger Open Cup, etc. Some people in women’s soccer want to see a Women’s Open Cup, which surely wouldn’t pay for itself at the outset.

Does Levinson understand that? Does Kessler? Do the media pundits who don’t seem to recognize that U.S. Soccer isn’t just some business that operates two teams?

Seems unlikely. There are surely thousands of better battlegrounds on which to fight the equity battle, ones in which a man and a woman do the same job and don’t get vastly different bonuses from outside entities.

The women deserve an eight-figure payout. At this point, U.S. Soccer would surely give it.

Will that be enough to make this stop? To get everyone back on track to build a better — and yes, more equitable — federation that is a good steward of the game? To encourage sponsors to look beyond Megan Rapinoe and take an interest in the NWSL?

Personally, I’ve tried to offer solutions. The best, of course, would be for FIFA to pay equal prize money for men and women, an idea that should no longer seem preposterous given the global success of the 2019 World Cup. Another is increasing the current disparity in World Cup bonus percentages — the women, including the Victory Tour bonus paid on top of game fees, currently get roughly 100% of a winner’s bonus (far, far more than the countries publicizing their “equal pay” deals) and roughly infinity percent of Olympic prize money, while the men get considerably less — so that the gap between the two teams isn’t completely erased but is narrowed. Another is pooling MNT and WNT money so that each team’s triumphs benefit the other. From what I understand, neither team is interested, but each team is more than welcome to tell me otherwise.

Because the longer this goes on, the poorer the sport becomes. Figuratively and literally.