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USWNT players sue for equitable pay

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Three months before beginning their defense of their Women’s World Cup title, American players escalated their legal dispute with the U.S. Soccer Federation over equal treatment and pay.

Players filed a federal discrimination lawsuit against the federation Friday, alleging ongoing “institutionalized gender discrimination” that includes unequal pay with their counterparts on the men’s national team.

The women’s team has often championed equal rights issues and sought more equitable pay during collective bargaining two years ago.

“I think a lot of people look to us and our team and the collective voice that we have and what we’ve stood for, for inspiration and for power, and as an ally in this broader fight for equality and human rights, really,” said winger Megan Rapinoe, a co-captain and veteran of 149 international appearances.

The 28 members of the current women’s player pool filed the lawsuit in U.S. District Court in Los Angeles under the Equal Pay Act and Title VII of the Civil Rights Act. The lawsuit, which seeks class-action status, was filed on International Women’s Day.

Players seek damages that include back pay.

“We believe it is our duty to be the role models that we’ve set out to be and fight to what we know we legally deserve,” forward Christen Press told The Associated Press. “And hopefully in that way it inspires women everywhere.”

The U.S. Women’s National Team Players Association is not party to the lawsuit but said in a statement it “supports the plaintiffs’ goal of eliminating gender-based discrimination by USSF.”

The USSF did not have an immediate comment.

The men’s and women’s U.S. national teams have separate collective bargaining agreements, and their pay is structured differently. That means there is no dollar-to-dollar salary comparison.

The lawsuit claims that from March 2013 through Dec. 31, 2016, when the previous collective bargaining agreement expired, players on the women’s team could make a maximum salary of $72,000, plus bonuses for winning non-tournament games as well as World Cup appearances and victories, and for Olympic placement.

“A comparison of the WNT and MNT pay shows that if each team played 20 friendlies in a year and each team won all 20 friendlies, female WNT players would earn a maximum of $99,000 or $4,950 per game, while similarly situated male MNT players would earn an average of $263,320 or $13,166 per game against the various levels of competition they would face,” the lawsuit says.

It concludes that a top-tier women’s player would make only 38 percent of a similarly situated men’s player.

A pay disparity was very apparent at the World Cup: In 2014, the federation gave the men’s roster a performance bonus of nearly $5.4 million after the U.S. went out in the round of 16 in Brazil. The women’s team received a bonus of $1.72 million after winning the 2015 World Cup in Canada.

The last time the U.S. men made the World Cup field (for Brazil) male players selected to the roster received a $55,000 bonus, while the women received $15,000 each for making the 2015 World Cup, according to court documents. Additionally, the men shared a $2 million bonus for qualifying, while the women shared $300,000.

The USSF has long maintained that any disparity is the result of separate collective bargaining agreements.

Compensation for the women includes a guaranteed salary and also salaries paid by the USSF for their time with clubs in the National Women’s Soccer League. The men get paid based on roster selection for appearances for friendlies and tournaments.

While star players on the women’s team, like forward Alex Morgan, can make as much as their male counterparts because of endorsement deals, the disparity becomes greater for players with lesser profiles.

Terms of the collective bargaining agreements have not been made public.

A group of players filed a complaint in 2016 with the federal Equal Employment Opportunity Commission that alleged wage discrimination by the federation. The new lawsuit effectively ends that EEOC complaint, brought by Morgan, Rapinoe, Becky Sauerbrunn, Carli Lloyd and former goalkeeper Hope Solo. The players received a right-to-sue letter from the EEOC last month.

Kathryn H. Ruemmler, a lawyer representing the federation, wrote in a May 2016 letter to the EEOC that over the previous four years, women’s national team players averaged almost $280,000, a figure $90,000 more than men’s national team players. She pointed out that women receive benefits the men don’t, including severance pay, medical insurance, maternity leave, child care and a relocation allowance.

Ruemmler also said men’s games generated about $144 million from 2008-15, while women’s matches generated $53 million, and television ratings for men’s games from 2013-15 averaged twice the figure for women’s matches.

But those figures were for years prior to the women’s 2015 World Cup victory and also did not include the men’s failure to reach the 2018 World Cup. The women’s team brought in $6.6 million in profit in 2015, compared to less than $2 million for the men’s team.

Following the EEOC action, the women took the fight for equality into contract negotiations and struck a collective bargaining agreement covering 2017-21.

Players received raises in base pay and bonuses as well as better provisions for travel and accommodations, including increased per diems. It also gave the players some control of certain licensing and marketing rights.

The lawsuit filed Friday seeks “an adjustment of the wage rates and benefits” for the women.

“At the heart of this whole issue we believe that it’s the right thing. We believe that there has been discrimination against us,” Rapinoe said. “And while we have fought very hard and for a long time, whether that be through our CBA or through our players association, putting ourselves in the best possible position that we can to get the best deal that we can, we still feel that we don’t have what we’re trying to achieve, which is equality in the workplace.”

Who is Italy’s greatest Olympian?

Alberto Tomba
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Italy ranks sixth on the total Olympic medal list, thanks in large part to its fencers. Italian fencers have won a leading 125 medals, more than double the nation’s total in any other sport. The Italians are known for their personalities, from La Bomba to the Cannibal, with six of their best detailed here …

Deborah Compagnoni
Alpine Skiing
Three Olympic Gold Medals

The only Alpine skier to earn gold at three straight Olympics. Compagnoni overcame a broken knee as a junior racer and life-saving surgery to remove 27 inches of her intestine in 1990 to win the Albertville 1992 super-G by 1.8 seconds. It remains the largest margin of victory in the discipline for either gender since 1968. The following day, Compagnoni tore knee ligaments in the giant slalom. She returned to win the GS at the 1994 Lillehammer Games. Compagnoni ended her Olympic career with the biggest rout in a GS at a Winter Games, prevailing by 1.41 seconds in Nagano.

Klaus Dibiasi
Diving
Three Olympic Gold Medals

The only diver to win the same individual event three times. The Austrian-born Dibiasi took platform silver in 1964 at age 17, then three straight golds through 1976. Dibiasi was coached by his father, who was 10th on platform at the 1936 Berlin Games. In his final Olympics, Dibiasi held off a 16-year-old Greg Louganis, who would go on to challenge, if not overtake, Dibiasi as the greatest male diver in history.

Eugenio Monti
Bobsled
Six Olympic Medals

Regarded by many as the greatest bobsled driver in history. Monti captured two silver medals in 1956, missed the 1960 Winter Games that didn’t include bobsled, then two bronzes in 1964 and a pair of golds at age 40 in 1968. On top of that, the nine-time world champion is remembered for an act of sportsmanship in 1964. In between runs, Monti lent a bolt off his own two-man sled to a British team whose sled was damaged. The Brits took gold, ahead of both Italian sleds.

Alberto Tomba
Alpine Skiing
Three Olympic Gold Medals

“La Bomba” dazzled by sweeping the giant slalom and slalom at the 1988 Calgary Winter Games, after dubbing himself the “Messiah of Skiing“ beforehand. Known for his man-about-town ways, Tomba offered one of his gold medals to East German figure skater Katarina Witt should she fall short in her event. After Witt repeated as gold medalist, the story goes that Tomba showed up with a bouquet of roses and an autographed picture of himself, made out out to “Katerina.” “I used to have a wild time with three women until 5 a.m.,” Tomba once said. “Now I live it up with five women until 3 a.m,”

Valentina Vezzali
Fencing
Six Olympic Gold Medals

An 18-year-old Vezzali was an alternate for the 1992 Olympics, forced to watch on TV as the Italian women took team foil gold. Vezzali made the next five Olympics, winning medals in all nine of her events, including three straight individual titles, the last as a mom. Vezzali finished her career with nine total Olympic medals, 25 world championships medals, a flag bearer honor at the 2012 Opening Ceremony and as a member of Italy’s parliament.

Armin Zoeggeler
Luge
Six Olympic Medals

“The Cannibal” retired in 2014 as the first athlete to earn a medal in the same individual event at six straight Olympics. Zoeggeler earned silver and bronze medals in 1994 and 1998, then overtook German legend Georg Hackl for gold in 2002, followed by winning at home in Torino in 2006. He held on for bronze medals in 2010 and 2014, behind the new German luge star, Felix Loch, who would be coached by Hackl. Growing up on top of a steep hill, Zoeggeler began sledding at age 7 to catch the school bus at the bottom.

GREATEST OLYMPIANS: Germany | Liechtenstein | Japan

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Kurt Angle recalls devastation, exultation of Olympic wrestling gold medal

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Kurt Angle doesn’t remember much from the 1996 Atlanta Olympics, but he won’t forget that moment of deep emotional pain.

In the 100kg final, Angle and Iranian Abbas Jadidi were tied 1-1 after regulation and an overtime period.. Eight total minutes of wrestling. They also had the same number of passivity calls, forcing a judges’ decision to determine the gold medalist.

After deliberation, the referee stood between each wrestler in the middle of the mat. He held each’s wrist, ready to reveal the champion to the Georgia World Congress Center crowd — and to the athletes. Angle, now 51, has rarely watched video of the match. But he distinctly remembers, in his peripheral vision, Jadidi’s left arm rising.

“I thought I lost,” Angle said by phone this week. “So right away, I was like, s—, four more years.”

Turns out, the Iranian was raising his own arm. An instant later, the referee suppressed Jadidi. He lifted Angle’s right arm. The wrestler sobbed.

“I had so much emotion because I was devastated and then I was told that I won,” Angle said. “It was a very odd experience. I didn’t know how to handle it. It felt like my father died all over again. That’s how much grief I had. Then, all of a sudden, you won.”

Angle thought of two people immediately after he won, falling to his knees in prayer. First, his father, David, who died in a construction accident when Angle was 16. Second, the 1984 Olympic wrestling champion Dave Schultz, his coach who was murdered by John du Pont six months before the Games.

Angle went on to become one of the most famous U.S. gold medalists of the Atlanta Games, due largely to a two-decade career as a professional wrestler, including as a world heavyweight champion with the WWE.

It would have been different if the referee kept Jadidi’s arm in the air. Angle went into the Olympics knowing it would be his last competition, but only if he took gold. Anything less, and he would continue on, perhaps into his 30s and the 2000 Sydney Games. Despite everything Angle went through just to get to Atlanta.

In the year leading up to the Olympics, Angle lost Schultz, broke his neck at the U.S. Open and, five minutes before each match at the Olympic Trials, received 12 shots of novocaine to numb the pain long enough to advance to the next round. Angle later developed a painkiller addiction.

Angle, a Pennsylvania native, was part of the Foxcatcher club when du Pont shot and killed Schultz. Angle said he wasn’t consulted for the 2014 film “Foxcatcher,” but he thought it was well done save a few instances of dramatic license.

“Unfortunately, I hate to admit this, but if it weren’t for Team Foxcatcher, I probably wouldn’t have won my gold medal,” Angle said. “I probably wouldn’t have known Dave Schultz, and I probably wouldn’t have been able to achieve what I did. It sucks because, to have to thank John du Pont for the ability of allowing me to pay me to wrestle full time and win a world championship [in 1995] and Olympic gold medal, that was huge, but he killed Dave Schultz. The club would have thrived to this day. It just sucks it turned out the way it did, because it made me the best wrestler in the world. Dave Schultz had a lot to do with that, but a lot of wrestlers that followed could have not had to worry about money and could have trained and competed.”

Angle shared his gold medal with, he estimated, thousands of people before housing it in a safe.

“The gold was wearing off,” Angle said. “One kid, I remember, I was at an elementary school, and he grabbed my medal by the ribbon and started twirling it around real fast. He let go of it, and it hit the wall. There’s a big dent in my gold medal. That was the last time I brought it to an elementary school.”

Angle announced in 2011, at age 42, that he was training to come back for the 2012 Olympic Trials. He never made it, calling it off with a knee injury.

“But I trained hard for it,” Angle said, noting he still kept up appearances with Total Nonstop Action Wrestling. “I will tell you this, I wouldn’t have made the team. My goal was to place in the top three. I just missed the [thrill of] competition.”

It meant that Angle’s last match remained that Olympic final. His last moment as a freestyle wrestler having his arm raised.

“All I wanted to do was win a world championship and an Olympic gold medal, and I did them both,” Angle said, sobbing, just off the mat that night in Atlanta. “If I died tonight, I’d be the happiest man in the world.”

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