Eugene Robinson

Robinson

WASHINGTON — The superb athletes of the U.S. women's national soccer team, once again winners of the World Cup, shouldn't be paid as much as their counterparts on the men's team. The women should be paid more. A lot more.

If the field of sports is truly a meritocracy, there should be no argument about value or compensation. The men's team played decently Sunday night, losing 1-0 to Mexico in the final of the regional Gold Cup tournament. By contrast, the women's team, hours earlier, became champions of the known world for a record fourth time, dispatching a talented Netherlands squad 2-0 in a display of power and precision that took one's breath away.

Marching through the World Cup like Sherman through Georgia, the team scored a total of 26 goals and surrendered only three. Captain Megan Rapinoe, who scored the Americans' first goal Sunday, won the Golden Boot for being the tournament's top goal-scorer and the Golden Ball for being the most valuable player. Purple-haired and proudly lesbian, Rapinoe can be brash — she said earlier that if the team won, she wouldn't be "going to the [bleeping] White House" to shake hands with President Trump. But boy, I mean girl, does she ever walk the talk.

The second U.S. goal will be featured in highlight reels for years to come. Midfielder Rose Lavelle dribbled straight up the pitch, juking and stutter-stepping until Dutch defenders were spun in circles, creating just enough space for herself and then blasting a powerful left-footed shot into the back of the net. Pele and Maradona did it just as well; nobody ever did it better.

The women's team made this incredible run while all 28 members of the squad were simultaneously pursuing a federal lawsuit against the U.S. Soccer Federation, alleging they are paid less than the men's national team and given less support — despite their far better record. The men's team has never won the World Cup, and last year did not even qualify for the quadrennial men's tournament.

The Washington Post's "Fact Checker" column found it difficult to do an apples-to-apples pay comparison without more data, which the soccer federation chooses not to share. But the Post did find that the women's team may be earning as much money for the federation as the men's team, or even more. And the Post found such a massive disparity in bonus payments that the men get more for losing a World Cup match than the women get for winning one.

One of the biggest sources of revenue for the federation is merchandising. Nike Chief Executive Officer Mark Parker said on an earnings call last month that "the USA Women's home jersey is now the No. 1 soccer jersey, men's or women's, ever sold on Nike.com in one season." And the demand for sports bras has made Nike, for the first time, the biggest seller of bras in North America, Parker said.

As the team held aloft the golden World Cup trophy Sunday in Lyon, France, some fans in the stadium chanted, "Equal pay! Equal pay!"

It takes guts to sue one's employer, as the women's squad is doing. It takes something beyond guts to then go out and perform the way this team did, slicing through the World Cup field like a hot knife through butter. The quality of play in international women's soccer has improved dramatically over the past decade; it's no longer the United States vs. the Also-Rans, as it was two decades ago in the heyday of Mia Hamm and Brandi Chastain. This year, the U.S. team had to be in its sharpest form to beat the competition. Yet not for a single minute, in even a single match, did Rapinoe and her teammates trail their opponents.

Preliminary television ratings indicate that more U.S. viewers watched Sunday's final match than watched the men's World Cup final last year (in which France beat Croatia). Sunday's final was, in fact, the most-watched soccer match in this country at least since the 2015 women's final, which was also won by the U.S. team (over Japan).

There's one thing missing from the women's game: the histrionics. There's much less writhing on the ground over dubious injuries, much less operatic pleading with the referee, much less juvenile gamesmanship. One has to wonder whether men might inherently be too emotional to play this game the right way.

There's no question about the U.S. women's team, though. New York is giving them a ticker-tape parade. The soccer federation needs to pay them what they're worth.

Eugene Robinson is a syndicated columnist. Contact him at eugenerobinson@washpost.com.

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