Following intense backlash for sexist language used in a legal filing against the United States women’s national team players last week, new U.S. Soccer Federation president Cindy Parlow Cone is promising a change of course.
U.S. Soccer lawyers argued in last week’s filing that women’s players deserve lower compensation because they have less ability or skill than men, and thus face lesser challenges and bear a lower responsibility to the federation. Even before she assumed her new role, Parlow Cone decried this language on social media. In a statement that was filed as part of the lawsuit and obtained by Sports Illustrated, the Equalizer and The Athletic, Parlow Cone doubled down on rejecting the lawyers’ line of argument.
“Last week’s legal filing was an error,” Parlow Cone said. “It resulted from a fundamental breakdown in our internal process that led to offensive assertions made by the Federation that do not represent our core values.”
The statement came following a wave of strong reactions from players, fans and sponsors that upended U.S. Soccer last week. The women’s national team wore their warm-up tops inside out, obscuring the U.S. Soccer logo, ahead of the final match of the SheBelieves Cup. Former stars from the men’s and women’s team, such as Mia Hamm, Heather O’Reilly and DaMarcus Beasley spoke out on social media. Major sponsors of U.S. Soccer, such as Budweiser, Coca-Cola and Volkswagen vocally condemned the language in the proceedings.
Shortly after, former U.S. Soccer president Carlos Cordeiro resigned, lifting Parlow Cone into the spotlight as the new president.
Parlow Cone outlined in her statement a series of steps she has implemented to change the tone of the U.S. Soccer legal team, including removing all offensive language from U.S. Soccer’s filing for summary judgement and transitioning to the Latham & Watkins legal firm.
Parlow Cone also said the federation will undergo an immediate internal review to prevent a similar “breakdown” in the future.
“The last week has been difficult for everyone involved in our sport, especially with this occurring on top of the realities of COVID-19 that we are all enduring at this time,” Parlow Cone said. “It is our obligation to move quickly to repair the damage that has been done. I am committed to addressing this issue in an honest, transparent and forthright manner.”
While Parlow Cone’s language reflected a shift in the overall defense strategy used by U.S. Soccer, it did not suggest a softening of the federation’s arguments. The new legal team is instead doubling down on its stance that the women’s national team received higher compensation than the men’s team in certain years.
Parlow Cone stated her hope is to find “a positive resolution for both sides.”
“The WNT is the most successful soccer team in the world,” Parlow Cone said. “As it relates to the lawsuit filed by the women, I offer the perspective of a former player. I know how important it is for both the Federation and the players to move beyond this and keep working together on what unites us. We have only one Federation and one senior Women’s National Team. We have to work together and move forward in a positive manner toward what I know are mutual goals, growing the game and winning.”
Although the removal of blatantly offensive language was a welcomed step, USWNT spokeswoman Molly Levinson did not think it was enough. She pointed out the apology and change came only after vocal outcry from eight-figure sponsors.
USWNT star Megan Rapinoe shared that sentiment after Cordeiro issued an apology last week, adding the women’s team always felt an underlying bias from the federation regardless of public statements.
“These latest filings demonstrate that USSF has jettisoned its primary legal arguments after losing sponsor and fan support for their blatant misogyny and is instead now trying to return to the argument which the Court has already rejected as ‘absurd’: the claim that women players were paid more,” Levinson said in a statement.
In her response to Parlow Cone, Levinson addressed two of the remaining tenants of the U.S. Soccer defense — that the women earned more in total compensation and chose other benefits over an opportunity for an equal pay structure.
In regard to total compensation, Levinson reiterated the women’s national team had to play and win more games to outearn the men’s national team, and “thus earned more compensation despite ongoing discrimination.”
The women’s team also fervently rejected the idea it never requested equal pay from U.S Soccer, saying the players asked for equal pay and continue to ask for it now.
“What equality requires is the same opportunity to earn as much as the men,” Levinson said. “This opportunity has been repeatedly denied. These are times for unity, not division. USSF should stop trying to change the conversation and just change. Pay women players equally.”