U.S. Women’s National Soccer Team defender Ali Krieger on the wage discrimination lawsuit.

Why Are Women’s Soccer Players Suing U.S. Soccer? One of Them Explains.

Why Are Women’s Soccer Players Suing U.S. Soccer? One of Them Explains.

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May 6 2016 11:09 AM
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Not for Kicks

U.S. Soccer’s Ali Krieger on wage discrimination and shooting penalties.

Ali Krieger of Frankfurt runs with the ball during the Women's bundesliga match between FCR Duisburg and FFC Frankfurt at the PCC-Stadium on September 11, 2010 in Duisburg, Germany.
Ali Krieger runs with the ball during a match between FFC Frankfurt and FCR Duisburgat the PCC-Stadium on Sept. 11, 2010, in Duisburg, Germany.

Christoph Reichwein/Getty Images

Defender Ali Krieger has played on the U.S Women’s National Soccer Team in two World Cups, scoring a penalty kick against Brazil in the 2011 semifinals. In March, five of Krieger’s teammates on the women’s national team filed a wage-discrimination complaint against the U.S. Soccer Federation with the Equal Employment Opportunities Commission. She talked about the lawsuit, the penalty, and other matters with Josh Levin, Mike Pesca, and Stefan Fatsis on the “Live From a Major Media Market Edition” episode of Slate’s sports podcast Hang Up and Listen. This is an edited transcript of that conversation.

Josh Levin: I think that it’s a great time to talk about money. What do you guys think?

Ali Krieger, Stefan Fatsis, and Mike Pesca: Yeah!

Levin: We all know how much money you make. Isn’t that a little bit weird? Last month, five players on the women’s national team filed a complaint with the Equal Employment Opportunities Commission regarding disparities in pay between the men and women …

Krieger: It was actually our whole team.

Levin: There were five that were named, right?

Krieger: Yeah, they’re on that committee. Then we have an advertising committee, marketing, and all that. I just wanted to clear that up.

Pesca: Aren’t you on refreshments? What’s your committee?

Krieger: I’m the advertising committee and marketing committee.

Levin: The argument that you guys are making is about equal pay for equal work. And we can hopefully get into the nitty-gritty about that. But first I wanted to ask about the decision to file the federal complaint in the first place. It followed your team, united, refusing to play on that turf field in December in Hawaii. And from the outside, it feels like there’s this attitude of “enough is enough” and that you guys felt like you were being treated unfairly or unequally. Is that fair to say?

Krieger: Absolutely. I think it was impeccable timing, to be honest. For us, it’s about gender equity and being treated with fairness and respect and equality. I think it was about time that we just stood up for ourselves and said, “You know what? This is enough.” After that moment in Hawaii for our victory tour, being world champions and having to go and play on the type of field that we were going to play on, we didn’t wanna get injured and we didn’t want to have to lower our standards. We were world champions. We had the leverage at that moment, and we deserve better.

Pesca: So why not negotiate for that, given your standing? Why sue?

Krieger: We just want what’s fair. This isn’t us attacking U.S. Soccer, or attacking the men’s team. We have to fight together. It’s not men versus women or our men’s team versus the women’s team or “you get this, we don’t get this.” We need their support as well. We need to fight together. It’s not us going against the men.

Pesca: And several prominent players on the men’s team have publicly supported you.

Fatsis: The problem with these sorts of cases is that they do tend to devolve into “well, aggregate revenue and the average salary …” And it becomes a numbers game. We saw this week with the response by U.S. Soccer to the complaint that the numbers they presented are distorted and that in fact it’s much closer.

Levin: “Actually …”

Fatsis: Right. And I think that’s the hurdle here for the women is that you don’t want it to fall into this pattern of “he said, she said,” very literally. How do you overcome that natural tendency when you fall into a dispute like this?

Krieger: We just need to continue our support for the men’s team. We want them to be successful and we want them to earn as much as they can earn. We obviously want that reciprocated as well. But most importantly, it’s equal pay for equal play, and we endure just the same amount of mental training and physical training as they do. We endure the same amount as they do and we deserve fairness.

Pesca: Plus they got to knock off early in their World Cup.

Krieger: Yeah and it was a success. And for us it’s, like, failure if we don’t make it to the finals.

Levin: That’s a great point, because with everybody saying, “The women got around the same as the men did,” the way you guys were able to get that much more money was because you won the World Cup. I would still want to talk to you if you lost in the quarterfinals. That would be great. But in order to get this amount of money you guys had to—that was what the expectations are for the women, and that seems unfair.

Krieger: And I want to make a point: We’re not just fighting for our team. We’re fighting for all of the women’s teams across the board. We’re fighting for Canada, we’re fighting for Brazil, we’re fighting for Sweden, we’re fighting for everyone to be able to earn what we deserve. I’m very proud to be a part of this bigger movement. We’re not just doing it for ourselves. We’re doing it for all of the women who play at this high level.

Pesca: In terms of the pay disparity, one of the points was that the men get money for showing up, or even if they lose a friendly, and the women do not get paid if they lose a friendly. And at first I thought that was a good point, but then I said, “You guys don’t lose friendlies.” So why is that the deal?

Krieger: Yeah, pay up! But it was quite shocking to see that even if the men’s team loses they get $5,000 a game. If we lose, we get $0. If they tie a game they get about $8,000, and we get $0. And if they win they get about $13,000 and we get $1,350, I think, is the bonus.

Fatsis: You mentioned leverage before, and the end game here is really negotiating a better contract. You’re certainly in a better position to do that, and you will be after you win the Olympics—not to put any pressure on you or anything. But we talked about this a few weeks ago on this show, and one of the points I made was that U.S. Soccer represents all of soccer in the United States, and we’re at the point where, let’s be frank, apart from the women, we are not exactly dominant forces in the world on the men’s side. Why shouldn’t the revenue just be divided equitably? We’re supposed to be bringing up all levels of soccer regardless of gender in the United States.

Krieger: Yes, absolutely. As I said before, now we have the leverage to do so, and I feel that we needed that in order to really make a point of what we’re trying to do here. And yeah, it’s gonna take some time and we fight every single day to get what we deserve, and I think that now, specifically, winning the World Cup, not only has it helped in this situation, but it’s helped women’s football across the world. We all are fighting together to hopefully, one day, have equal pay for equal play.

Levin: There’s a piece in the New York Times by Juliet Macur, about the NWSL, your league, and it made the argument that if folks are upset about the fact that the top women players in the world aren’t being paid equally, then what people need to do is support this league, and that there are players in this league who are not part of the national team program—because your salary is paid by U.S. Soccer, right? There are players who are not part of the national team program who are not making very much money. There’s a quote from one of those players that said, “If we’re going to eat at Chipotle together, they’re going to pay for the extra guacamole.” We want all of the players of the NWSL to have as much guacamole as they want.

Krieger: Yes, we love guacamole. That’s also a great point. We’re all in this together and we’re fighting for the players who are not allocated into the teams or who aren’t in the Canadian Federation or the U.S. Federation and who do not get allocated to these teams. We want to fight for those players, and that’s why we’re doing this—because we do have that voice, we do have that platform and that leadership to do so. And I think it’s very, very important that we need your help: sponsor teams, come to the games, support your local teams, tweet at us, social media, advertise, anything. Spread the word. You’re gonna go to a football match and see quality soccer. I just encourage all of you to participate. There was recently on Friday night a record for NWSL that was broken—the attendance record was 23,400 fans in Orlando. That’s the first year that they’ve had this women’s team, and I know that in the D.C. metropolitan area that we have 20,000 other fans that do want to come and support us in our game.

Levin: If only to make Mike Pesca look bad and wrong.

Krieger: Yes. So please I encourage all of you, not just helping us to succeed and continue this amazing league to hopefully be one of the best leagues in the world, but come help support us and watch good quality football.

Fatsis: You are on the marketing committee, right?

Krieger: Can you tell?

Fatsis: Just checking.

Pesca: So you played professionally in Germany?

Krieger: Yes.

Pesca: And Sweden?

Krieger: Yes, five and half years in Germany, and three months in Sweden.

Pesca: The clubs there are affiliated with the male clubs?

Krieger: Not all of them, no. We were in Frankfurt, I played for FFC Frankfurt for five and a half years, that was my first professional experience because at the time I graduated college, I don’t want to say because of my age but …

Fatsis: She’s 31.

Krieger: Yeah, I’m 31. So I went over in 2007 right after [graduating], because we didn’t have a league here, and I didn’t want to stop playing soccer. We were a separate entity from the men.

Pesca: Some of the clubs are affiliated with MLS loosely or strongly. Is it better to do it that way? Are there any lessons of the way they do it in Europe that the leagues here could borrow?

Krieger: Yeah, but I think one important thing to know is that in Europe, football is the number one sport there. Soccer, excuse me. Obviously, we’re maybe a little lower on the list. We’re getting there, especially in women’s sports, we are high on the list. I think that is gonna take some more time. Obviously you see more fans going out to the MLS games and I do agree that yes, it’s good, and it’s very positive and healthy for a women’s team to be connected to a men’s team because you automatically have their fans behind you 100 percent. But I do also think it’s powerful to not be associated directly with the men’s team because you’re fighting for yourself and if you can hold your own like we did at FFC Frankfurt; we still had a bunch of fans come out to our games and support us. It didn’t matter that we had a men’s team or not. It just depends on maybe where the city is and if you are a popular soccer city or town.

Pesca: Well, the women’s teams in the pro league that are connected to men’s teams are in Portland right? The Thorns and the Timber.

Krieger: I’m very impressed.

Pesca: In a sense, the teams who need it least are the ones who have it automatically, the soccer-crazy towns, right? And it would be nice if your team could be connected with an MLS team.

Fatsis: Oh I don’t know. I think the Spirit is better off playing out in suburban Maryland in a 5,000 seat stadium than at RFK stadium.

Krieger: Yeah, if we could pick it up and move it to be closer. Or get busses to take you guys out there. We’re working on that.

Fatsis: But I do think that as these leagues grow and mature, and this is a record fourth season for women’s professional soccer, as they grow and mature there are a lot of benefits, there’s a lot of economies of scale that can be gained with affiliating, particularly in soccer-specific stadiums. It would be a lot better if you were playing in an 18,000-seater or a 15,000-seat soccer-specific stadium and somewhere near downtown.

Krieger: Absolutely, and I think we would draw that amount of fans. I think that a lot of the D.C. United fans would be super encouraged to come out and support us. I know that some of them already do up at the Maryland complex. We do need more, but hopefully that connection and that relationship with the men’s team will continue to grow, and hopefully once they build the new stadium we’ll be able to call that our new home and all be under the same umbrella at some point. But you’re right I do think that it’s very important to also have that support of the men’s team and the men’s league.

Levin: So let’s do a lightning round. Let’s just ask a few more quick questions. You hit the penalty kick to beat Brazil in the 2011 World Cup.

Krieger: That was one of my two goals on the national team.

Levin: It was one of the best games ever. Just an amazing game.

Fatsis: Good thing you don’t get paid by the goal.

Krieger: I know, right? I probably wouldn’t be sitting here.

Levin: Here’s my question about that. When you step up to the spot to take that kick, were you just scared shitless?

Krieger: No, actually. Right before that I was. I was talking to Carli [Lloyd] right next to me. I remember this clear as day. So I was talking to Carli, we were all hugging each other, and—I don’t know if I should tell this story. Before we go out there we had an order set—most teams do. You know who your kickers are, you train the whole week to learn, and every training session you take a few [penalty kicks] just in case. I guess I was good enough to be on the list. It was Abby [Wambach], Boxxie [Shannon Boxx], Pinoe [Megan Rapinoe], Carli, and me, I think—I’m not sure of the order. But everyone rocked their PK, it just went right in. Upper corner, bottom corner, I don’t know—the goalkeeper maybe chose a different direction and it was unbelievable. I was looking at Carli, and I said, “Oh my god.” I just got so nervous. I said, “I don’t know if I can do this.” And she’s like, “Dude, you have to, you gotta go up there. You’ll be fine, but you gotta go up there. You’re the fifth one.”

Pesca: She’s got a future in coaching, that one.

Krieger: Right? Little did you guys know that after that PK—I hit it with my purse, I think I could’ve hit it a little bit harder than that—but thank goodness it went in and we celebrated. And then my coach came up to me the next day and she was like “When was the last time you shot a PK?” And I was like “Oh, U16 regional finals.” So that was a bit of a shocker. I’m glad I didn’t mention that before, or else ...

Fatsis: Yeah, but it was the final.

Krieger: Yeah, it was the final. So I was ready. Totally prepared.