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U.S. Soccer’s misleading claim that the USWNT makes more than the men, explained

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Carlos Cordeiro used some fuzzy math in an attempt to discredit the players’ lawsuit ahead of mediation.

U.S. Women’s National Team World Cup Champions Ticker Tape Parade Photo by Ira L. Black/Corbis via Getty Images

U.S. Soccer and the United States women’s national team are headed to mediation soon in an attempt to settle the players’ gender discrimination lawsuit without going to trial. Ahead of that sit-down, U.S. Soccer president Carlos Cordeiro made an attempt to win public opinion by sharing the letter he sent to federation members regarding the case.

In the letter, Cordeiro outlines why he believes the USWNT’s pay structure to be “fair and equitable.” He says that the women earned $34.1 million in salaries and bonuses from 2010 to 2018, while the men were paid $26.4 million.

If those numbers sound a bit fishy to you, you’re not alone. The USWNT players took serious issue with how the numbers were calculated.

The USWNT players say that “any apples to apples comparison shows that the men earn far more than the women,” and Cordeiro doesn’t dispute that the men have higher per-game bonus payments. So where does that nearly $8 million gap come from?

[Catch up: The UWSNT’s equal pay lawsuit is a fight for all of women’s sports]

Wage gap explanation No. 1: NWSL salaries

United States women’s national team players have their club salaries paid by U.S. Soccer, not their National Women’s Soccer League teams. These salaries were $50,000 per year in the league’s first year, and top players now earn $70,000 per year in NWSL under the current collective bargaining agreement. This alone accounts for about $7 million.

The USWNT believes that the investment U.S. Soccer makes in NWSL is separate from national team pay and not relevant to their lawsuit, while the federation obviously disagrees.

Wage gap explanation No. 2: The men aren’t as good

Of course the women are making more money than the men right now — they’re actually winning games. They also play more games, too. I went through the records over the time period Cordeiro specified and added them up, counting extra time and penalty defeats as losses, and victories in those games as wins, rather than recording them as draws.

From 2010 to 2018, the men played in 151 games, winning 77, losing 44, and drawing 30, good for a respectable 51 percent win rate. The women played an astonishing 190 times, winning 151, losing 18 and drawing 21, putting them at a 79 percent win rate.

While the men missed out on the 2018 World Cup, the years selected by Cordeiro allow for a direct comparison, since both teams played in two World Cups during that time period. Those games have the highest bonus payments. The women played in 13 World Cup matches, winning 12 and drawing one. The men played in eight World Cup games, winning two, losing three, and drawing three.

Cordeiro isn’t wrong when he says that the women make as much money as the men. The problem is that they have to be the best team in the history of the sport to make the same amount of money as a men’s team that’s usually between 20th- and 30th-best in the world. If they had the same record and played the same number of games, the women would make less money.

It’s not all about player paychecks

Salaries and bonus payments are just part of what the USWNT says are unequal — it also claims U.S. Soccer doesn’t put resources into other things that determine the team’s on-field and financial success. Here’s what Megan Rapinoe had to say in an interview with the New York Times:

In a broad sense, it’s about equal investment and equal care of both the men’s and women’s sides. Whether it’s youth team programs, marketing, the branding of the team, how they sell tickets, what they spend advertising money on, what they pay each side, what they spend on support staff, what they spend on coaching, what’s the travel budget — it’s all of that. The compensation is sort of the last big part.

Cordeiro said in his letter that the USWNT gets excellent support from the federation in those areas, but did not share numbers. We’ll probably learn more about that aspect of the lawsuit as mediation continues.

This is all legal wrangling and both sides want a resolution

You’re probably going to see several more instances of misleading math and outlandish claims from both sides before this gets resolved. That’s just kind of what happens during highly publicized legal battles. Expect lots more yelling, fuzzy math, and debunking of said fuzzy math.

[Go Deeper: Care about U.S. Soccer? We have a home for that. Read more about the context of U.S. Soccer’s claims at Stars and Stripes]