Williams, Duggan weigh in on U.S. soccer discrimination suit

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While Serena Williams admittedly doesn’t follow soccer, the U.S. women’s national team caught her attention with its lawsuit seeking equitable pay.

The players accuse the U.S. Soccer Federation of “institutionalized gender discrimination” that includes unequal pay with their counterparts on the men’s national team.

At the BNP Paribas Open in Indian Wells, California, Williams praised the players who came before her to fight for equal prize money in tennis.

“I think at some point, in every sport, you have to have those pioneers, and maybe it’s the time for soccer,” she said. “I’m playing because someone else stood up, and so what they are doing right now is hopefully for the future of women’s soccer.”

The 28 members of the current women’s player pool filed the lawsuit Friday in U.S. District Court in Los Angeles under the Equal Pay Act and Title VII of the Civil Rights Act. The USSF has not commented on the suit.

“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 lawsuit, which is the culmination of long-simmering concerns by the players, highlights the struggle for female athletes globally to achieve fair compensation for their efforts, even if that doesn’t mean identical paychecks to their male counterparts. “Fair” can include simple things like access to practice fields and changing rooms.

In tennis, Grand Slam events and many other tournaments give equal prize money to men and women, in part due to the work of pioneers like Billie Jean King, who was calling for equitable prize money in the 1970s. She once famously proclaimed: “Everyone thinks women should be thrilled when we get crumbs, and I want women to have the cake, the icing and the cherry on top, too.”

Two years ago, just before the U.S. women’s soccer team struck a new collective bargaining agreement that gave players pay raises and better benefits, the women’s national hockey team won a better contract after taking the drastic step of threatening to sit out of the world championships. The players’ effort went viral with the social media hashtag #BeBoldForChange.

Meghan Duggan was one of the players who led the fight.

“I have the utmost respect for the U.S. women’s soccer team and what they have always stood for,” she said. “They have continued to lead the way in advancing women’s sports and this is just another example of their boldness and leadership.”

The men’s and women’s soccer teams have separate collective bargaining agreements, and their pay is structured differently. That means there is no simple dollar-to-dollar salary comparison. Terms of the CBAs have not been made public.

Compensation for the women includes a guaranteed salary and salaries paid by the USSF for their time with clubs in the National Women’s Soccer League. The men get paid based on appearances, roster selection for friendlies and tournaments, and collective performance. The USSF has cited the contracts, as well as the revenue generated by the teams, as the reason for the differences.

While the U.S. Women’s National Team Players Association is not a party to the lawsuit, it issued a statement supporting the players’ goal of “eliminating gender-based discrimination by USSF.”

A group of five star 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 Alex Morgan, Megan Rapinoe, Becky Sauerbrunn, Carli Lloyd and former goalkeeper Hope Solo. The players received a right-to-sue letter from the EEOC last month.

At the time of the original complaint, U.S. Rep. Rosa DeLauro of Connecticut led a bipartisan group of lawmakers in a letter to the EEOC in support of the players. On Sunday, she applauded the team’s ongoing efforts for pay equity.

“These women are at the pinnacle of their sport. They are world champions. Yet, when they receive their paychecks, they are being paid less than their male counterparts. That is unacceptable,” she said in a statement to the AP. “Women and men in the same job deserve the same pay. Period. That is why I will keep pushing Congress to pass the Paycheck Fairness Act, which should be on the House Floor soon.”

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

WNBA players have exercised their right to terminate their CBA after the 2019 season, cutting the deal short by two years. The move allows the sides to negotiate a new deal that would go into effect for the 2020 season during an Olympic year.

“Without commenting on the specifics of the lawsuit, the WNBPA stands for equity and fairness, and stands against discrimination of any kind. We are proud to stand with the USWNTPA and other unions in support of players on these issues,” said Terri Jackson, WNBA Players Association director of operations.

Solo no longer plays for the national team. Her contract was terminated when she was suspended for comments made at the 2016 Rio de Janeiro Olympics. However, she continues to champion gender equity issues.

Last August, she filed her own federal lawsuit in the Northern District of California, accusing U.S. Soccer of violating the Equal Pay Act. That lawsuit is winding its way through the courts.

“I’d always hoped my former teammates would follow suit and join me in the battle in federal court against the United States Soccer Federation,” Solo told the AP. “It was clear that U.S. Soccer was never going to acquiesce or negotiate to provide us equal pay or agree to treat us fairly. The filing by the entire United Sates women’s national team demonstrated that they no longer fear the federation by forcefully and publicly acknowledging U.S. Soccer’s violations of the Equal Pay Act and Title VII.”

Teri McKeever fired by Cal as women’s swimming coach after investigation

Teri McKeever
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Teri McKeever, the first woman to serve as a U.S. Olympic swimming head coach, was fired by the University of California at Berkeley after an investigation into alleged verbal and emotional abuse of swimmers that she denied.

McKeever was put on paid administrative leave from her job as head women’s swimming coach in May after an Orange County Register report that 20 current or former Cal swimmers said McKeever verbally and emotionally bullied her swimmers.

Cal athletics director Jim Knowlton wrote in a letter to the Cal team and staff that a resulting independent law firm report detailed “verbally abusive conduct that is antithetical to our most important values.”

“I strongly believe this is in the best interests of our student-athletes, our swimming program and Cal Athletics as a whole,” Knowlton said of McKeever’s firing in a press release. “The report details numerous violations of university policies that prohibit race, national origin and disability discrimination.”

The Orange County Register first published what it says is the full independent report here.

“I deny and unequivocally refute all conclusions that I abused or bullied any athlete and deny any suggestion I discriminated against any athlete on the basis of race, disability or sexual orientation,” McKeever said in a statement Tuesday confirming her firing and expressing disappointment in how the investigation was conducted. “While I am disappointed in the way my CAL Career will conclude, I wish to thank and celebrate the many student-athletes and staff that made my time in Berkeley a true blessing and gift.”

McKeever’s lawyer wrote that McKeever “will be filing suit to expose the manner in which gender has affected not only the evaluation of her coaching but harmed and continues to harm both female and male athletes.”

McKeever led Cal women’s swimming and diving for nearly 30 years, winning four NCAA team titles and coaching Olympic champions including Missy FranklinNatalie Coughlin and Dana Vollmer.

In 2004, she became the first woman to be on a U.S. Olympic swim team coaching staff, as an assistant. In 2012, she became the first woman to be head coach of a U.S. Olympic swim team. She was an assistant again for the Tokyo Games.

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Diana Taurasi returns to U.S. national basketball team

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Diana Taurasi is set to return to the U.S. national basketball team next week for the first time since the Tokyo Olympics, signaling a possible bid for a record-breaking sixth Olympic appearance in 2024 at age 42.

Taurasi is on the 15-player roster for next week’s training camp in Minnesota announced Tuesday.

Brittney Griner is not on the list but is expected to return to competitive basketball later this year with her WNBA team, the Phoenix Mercury (also Taurasi’s longtime team, though she is currently a free agent), after being detained in Russia for 10 months in 2022.

Taurasi said as far back as the 2016 Rio Games that her Olympic career was likely over, but returned to the national team after Dawn Staley succeeded Geno Auriemma as head coach in 2017.

In Tokyo, Taurasi and longtime backcourt partner Sue Bird became the first basketball players to win five Olympic gold medals. Bird has since retired.

After beating Japan in the final, Taurasi said “see you in Paris,” smiling, as she left an NBC interview. That’s now looking less like a joke and more like a prediction.

Minnesota Lynx coach Cheryl Reeve succeeded Staley as head coach last year. In early fall, she guided the U.S. to arguably the best FIBA World Cup performance ever, despite not having stalwarts Bird, Griner, Tina Charles and Sylvia Fowles.

Taurasi was not in contention for the team after suffering a WNBA season-ending quad injury in the summer. Taurasi, who is 38-0 in Olympic games and started every game at the last four Olympics, wasn’t on a U.S. team for an Olympics or worlds for the first time since 2002.

Next year, Taurasi can become the oldest Olympic basketball player in history and the first to play in six Games, according to Olympedia.org. Spain’s Rudy Fernandez could also play in a sixth Olympics in 2024.

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