Major League Soccer Commissioner Don Garber and U.S. Soccer Federation vice president Cindy Cone criticized the legal stance taken by the USSF toward the women’s national team under president Carlos Cordeiro, who was coming under increasing pressure to resign.
A day after American women protested by wearing their warm-up jerseys inside out during the national anthem to obscure the federation logo, several USSF board members issued extraordinary rebukes that raised questions over whether Cordeiro retains their support.
In legal papers submitted to federal court in Los Angeles as part of the USSF’s defense of a gender discrimination suit by players on the women’s team, the USSF asserted the women have lesser physical abilities and responsibilities than their male counterparts. Several USSF sponsors issued statements backing the players, including The Coca-Cola Co., Anheuser Busch Cos. Inc., The Procter & Gamble Co. and Volkswagen Group.
Cordeiro issued a statement late during Wednesday’s game against Japan apologizing for the arguments presented in the documents and added the federation had retained new legal counsel, a move the men’s national team called “window dressing” and “a sleight of hand.”
Cordeiro’s statement did not assuage Garber, a member of the USSF board of directors and CEO of Soccer United Marketing, the marketing arm of both MLS and the USSF.
“I expressed to the president of the federation in no uncertain terms how unacceptable and offensive I found the statements in that filing to be,” Garber said in a statement. “Those statements do not reflect my personal view, nor do they reflect the views of the Major League Soccer and Soccer United Marketing families. I intend to immediately address this issue with the U.S. Soccer board of directors.”
Players filed the gender discrimination lawsuit in federal court in Los Angeles last year, claiming they are paid less than their counterparts on the men’s national team. The women are seeking more than $66 million in damages under the Equal Pay Act and the Civil Rights Act of 1964, and a trial is scheduled for May 5.
Cordeiro, a former Goldman Sachs partner, was elected to head the USSF two years ago. He took over from Sunil Gulati, who decided not to run for re-election after the men failed to qualify for the 2018 World Cup.
Cindy Parlow Cone, a former women’s national team player re-elected as USSF vice president last month, was among those on the USSF board criticizing the federation.
“I am hurt and saddened by the brief USSF filed,” she wrote on Twitter. “This issue means so much to me, but more broadly to all men & women and, more importantly, to little girls & boys who are our future. I disavow the troubling statements and will continue to work to forge a better path forward.”
Chris Ahrens, chair of the USSF Athletes Council and a member of the U.S. team that qualified for the 2012 Paralympic Game, wrote on Twitter he was “deeply troubled, saddened and angry.”
“The Athlete Council has requested a meeting with USSF leadership and members of the legal team to demand better,” he added. “I will continue to advocate for the often forgotten about groups and work for a more inclusive organization.”
Heather O’Reilly, an Athletes Council member who was a 2015 World Cup champion, called for Cordeiro’s resignation on Twitter.
“I am part of the Athlete Council. In 2017, we decided as a group, to vote for Carlos, to take over. There was a lot of promises and hope for change. The current released statements have shown my error in judgment,” she wrote. “I think that Carlos should resign and there should be a lengthy process of reorganization at.”
The assertions by the USSF of male physical superiority and responsibility drew widespread condemnation.
“The comments made by U.S. Soccer do not align with our values, nor our point of view on women’s soccer,” Monica Rustgi, Budweiser’s vice president of marketing, said in a statement. “We champion and admire the athleticism of the women in this sport as we find them to be among the best athletes in the world.”
The player protest before a 3-1 victory in the SheBelieves Cup provided a visual to built-up anger. Players hid the USSF crest on the jerseys but allowed the four stars – one for each World Cup title – to be visible. The players did not smile in the pre-game team photo.
“We wanted to stand together as a team and make a statement on behalf of all women and girls hat the federation`s comments are unacceptable,” the said in the statement issued by spokeswoman Molly Levinson. “We love this sport and this country, and we cannot stand for this misogynistic treatment.”
Just before the match ended, Cordeiro issued an apology.
“The federation’s submissions in court are 100% consistent with the longstanding positions and values of federation leadership,” men’s national team players said in a statement. “The effort to blame the lawyers to appease outraged federation sponsors underlines the lack of accountability and other larger problems at U.S. Soccer. The legal strategy to demean the women’s national team and their accomplishments is consistent with the federation’s overall approach to dealing with national team players.”
Players took to social media to voice their displeasure. Christen Press posted a photo of the unsmiling team, writing: “It is the great honor of my life to play this sport and represent this country. Every woman deserves equal pay and every institution anywhere that doesn’t value women as much as men must change now.”
DaMarcus Beasley, the only American man to play in four World Cups, said he was both annoyed an disappointed.
“Respectfully, this is a terrible stance by US Soccer,” Beasley wrote. “Our women are NOT inferior to men in any sense of the word. The are Olympic gold medalists and World Cup Champions!!! And incredible women!!”
Nashville midfielder Dax McCarty, a past member of the national team, wrote on Twitter the statements were “sexist, misogynistic and tone deaf” and also “horrifying.”
In an interview following the game, Megan Rapinoe, the reigning FIFA Player of the Year, addressed young players.
“You are not lesser just because you are a girl. You are not better just because you are a boy,” she said. “We are all created equal and should all have the equal opportunity to got out and pursue our dreams.”