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Crooks: The Numbers Fueling U.S. Women's Soccer Lawsuits Are Telling

By Glenn Crooks
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The governing body of soccer in the states, US Soccer, sued the U.S. Women's National Soccer Team Players Association on Feb. 3 -- the eve of Olympic qualifying.

US Soccer was attempting to block an assumed attempt at a work stoppage prior to the impending Summer Games in Brazil.

Last Thursday, the players' union, led by prominent members Carli Lloyd, Megan Rapinoe, Hope Solo, Alex Morgan and Becky Sauerbrunn, filed a wage discrimination claim with the Equal Employment Opportunity Commission against US Soccer.

The lawyer representing the women, Jeff Kessler, claims the timing of the suit was dictated by US Soccer's admission in collective bargaining agreement negotiations that the women would receive less than the men.

US Soccer lawyer Russell Sauer denied that claim to a small group of journalists on Thursday night.

"I can tell you categorically along with the other US Soccer participants that statement or anything even remotely along those lines was never said," said Sauer, who was present at all three CBA meetings, the latest in March.

Management teams have not often been a fan of Kessler, who is being dubbed a liar by US Soccer.

He was the lead attorney in the successful "Deflategate" appeal by Tom Brady, whose four-game NFL suspension was overturned by a district court.

Kessler successfully represented Latrell Sprewell and the NBA Players Association in arbitration overturning his controversial suspension and guaranteed contract termination after Sprewell reportedly choked his coach, P.J. Carlesimo.

He won a jury verdict for NFL players striking down free agency restrictions under the antitrust laws.

He successfully represented various classes of NBA players, leading to the current free agency/salary cap system in the NBA and the end of the 2011 lockout.

US Soccer president Sunil Gulati has previously met Kessler in the litigation spheres. Kessler is representing the North American Soccer League in its anti-trust suit against Major League Soccer and US Soccer. Kessler claimed, in a 13-page letter to Gulati last summer, that the United States Soccer Federation creates unlawful hurdles to ensure that MLS soccer remains America's only "Division I" league.

US Soccer and MLS have a hip connection through television revenue sharing.

We are being presented with a conflict between Columbia University lecturers. Kessler, who attained undergraduate and law degrees from Columbia, is a lecturer-in-law for the university. Gulati is a senior lecturer in economics for the Ivy League school.

Gulati has said the players' claim for equal pay is unwarranted based on financials.

Grant Wahl of asked Gulati if he thinks the U.S. women deserve to be paid equally to the U.S. men, and if not, why not?

"I don't want to use the word 'deserve' in any of this," Gulati said. "I'd reverse the question: Do you think revenue should matter at all in determination of compensation in a market economy? If we look at the track record of teams, a lot of different things go into the compensation for the players. Part of it is based on revenue, part of it is based on revenues that accrue from international competitions, part of it is based on incentives and the performance of the teams."

The incentives based on performance is an area of critical concern to the players. For instance, if the USWNT wins an international friendly, each player earns $1,350. If the men's team suffers a loss in a friendly, each player still receives $5,000. If the men triumph over a team in the Top 10 in the FIFA Rankings, each player collects $17,625. For a similar accomplishment, the women receive $1,350. The women do not have bonus compensated if they tie or lose a friendly match.

"The other thing that jumps out on me is the annual report budgets for US Soccer," said Hampton Dellinger, the lead counsel for a coalition of international women's soccer players in a gender discrimination lawsuit against FIFA and the Canadian Soccer Association -- the turf-versus-grass war. "It's just not the way you treat the world champions."

A close look at the figures published by US Soccer from 2015 indicates that the federation spent $30 million to run the men's program compared to $11 million on the women's side. The women's figure includes the $1.5 million subsidy to the NWSL for USWNT player salaries within the league.

"I think that's what people are missing," continued Dellinger. "It's not just the pay gap; it's an overall support level between the two teams which seems so heavily one sided, particularly given the women's performance and what the women's team has been able to reap financially."

During the most recent four-year period, the revenue numbers are analogous, according to players' association representatives. The men have generated $60 million compared to $51 million by the women's side.

"Instead of US Soccer making an offer that their world champions couldn't refuse, they are playing hard ball," said Dellinger, who became a fan of the women's game watching Mia Hamm at the University of North Carolina.

Meanwhile, Gulati contends that the women are valued by the federation.

"We think very highly of the women's national team, we want to compensate them fairly," Gulati said.

"The answer is for US Soccer to put their cards out there," Dellinger said. "Using a line from the vice president, Joe Biden: 'Don't tell me what you value. Show me your budget and I'll tell you what you actually DO value.'


-- The debate as to whether to knock a ball out during the run of play if an opponent is injured, intensified on Friday night.

Red Bulls center back Kemar Lawrence was prone near his penalty box with an apparent injury during New York's match at New England. The Revolution elected to "play on" and Juan Agudela's end line service was finished by Diego Fagundez and the Revs went on to their first win of the season.

There is an unwritten courtesy that an attacking team will play the ball out if a member of its opponent is down with what may be a serious injury.

"In the game these days, I don't think sportsmanship exists anymore," Red Bulls captain Dax McCarty said.

"You'd like to think in that situation, there would be sportsmanship," remarked New York's other lead player spokesman, Luis Robles.

Red Bulls coach Jesse Marsch referred to the move as "shameful" after the match

There was a confrontation under similar circumstances between Michael Bradley of Toronto and his National Team teammate, Brad Davis of Sporting KC.

What is the correct protocol for this scenario? New England coach Jay Heaps admitted if the roles had been reversed he would be angry as well.

Each match is required to have a referee and, unfortunately, we must give another grand responsibility to the man in the middle. Mark Geiger, twice the MLS Referee of the Year and the only American to referee a World Cup match, was in charge of the Red Bulls-Revolution match. There was no whistle blast and New England continued its surge towards goal -- an urgent team desperate for its initial win of the season.

If you agree this game-deciding possession should have been halted, the referee is obliged to make the determination, not the advancing team.

For all things futbol, please follow Glenn on Twitter at @GlennCrooks

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