The Reign practiced Tuesday for the first time since a wage-discrimination lawsuit was filed last week by U.S. national-team veterans.
Wage discrimination is a “tough” issue, Reign midfielder Keelin Winters mused aloud Tuesday in the wake of last week’s action filed by five women’s national-team stars against the U.S. Soccer Federation.
“Which is kind of funny,” Winters continued, “because, you know, equal pay shouldn’t be a controversial topic.”
The Reign practiced Tuesday at Memorial Stadium for the first time since a wage-discrimination lawsuit was filed late last week by club teammates Hope Solo and Megan Rapinoe along with fellow national-team veterans Alex Morgan, Carli Lloyd and Becky Sauerbrunn. Winters and others spoke at length about their perspectives of the Equal Employment Opportunity Commission filing, which alleges that women’s national-team players are paid nearly four times less than their male counterparts.
“We need a voice,” said Reign defender Lauren Barnes, who recently earned her first national-team call-up. “It’s always been the elephant in the room. We all know the wage gap, and it’s never been a secret. I’m glad they’re really pushing for that. … I think it’s a huge step forward for women’s soccer and for women in sports in general.”
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Solo, who is with the national team ahead of its friendly against Colombia on Wednesday, and Rapinoe, rehabbing from a knee injury, are not practicing with the Reign. But their club teammates said their role at the forefront of the issue is unsurprising.
They describe the timing of the wage-discrimination action, as well as increased activism on a number of different fronts, as an outspoken generation of players building on the success of the 1999 World Cup title team.
“We talked about the ’99ers, who were all of our role models,” Winters said. “And they were just putting women’s soccer on the map. They really laid the groundwork for us to fight the good fight, to actually break barriers.”
Also relevant are looming negotiations for a new collective-bargaining agreement between the players and federation. U.S. Soccer is arguing that a memorandum of understanding signed in 2013 remains in effect.
Solo has refused to rule out a potential boycott of this summer’s Olympics — the second-most prestigious tournament in women’s soccer. Such a move could impact the NWSL. Reign coach and general manager Laura Harvey said Tuesday that the front office hasn’t gotten any official word of potential ramifications, but given that U.S. Soccer helps pick up the NWSL salary of national-team players, some fallout would seem inevitable.
“Obviously, you don’t want to do anything to jeopardize your league, because it is your profession,” Winters said. “Which just kind of sucks, because, really? We’re just trying to get equal pay, and you have to worry about job security? But the league’s in its infancy. Do you want to strive for equal pay? Yes. Are you going to be able to do it in one fell swoop without jeopardizing your league? Probably not.”
Asked a follow-up about whether the constant questions about the league’s sustainability and the wage gap up and down the food chain were frustrating, Winters’ response was characteristically candid.
“It was actually frustrating before, when it wasn’t a conversation,” she said. “The pay for the national-team players is nowhere near what the men are getting. The pay in the NWSL is nowhere near what even WNBA players are making. But the WNBA has the NBA to fall back on, and the NBA is really successful and has been around for years and years. I see both sides of the issue. I do. I think all of us do. But it was more of a frustration for us when it wasn’t being talked about and the general public either didn’t care or just didn’t know.”