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‘Blatant Misogyny’: U.S. Women Protest, and U.S. Soccer President Resigns


Carlos Cordeiro, the president of the United States Soccer Federation, resigned Thursday night, three days after the federation argued in legal filings that “indisputable science” proved that the players on its World Cup-winning women’s national team were inferior to men.

Facing on-field protests by members of the women’s team, withering criticism from major U.S. Soccer sponsors and public condemnation by members of the organization’s board of directors, Cordeiro found his position untenable.

“My one and only mission has always been to do what is best for our Federation, and it has become clear to me that what is best right now is a new direction,” he wrote in a statement announcing his resignation.

The resignation came 24 hours after Cordeiro attempted to contain the backlash by apologizing for the series of legal filings in the women’s gender discrimination and equal pay lawsuit. In those documents, the federation’s lawyers had argued that it required more “skill” and “responsibility” to play for the men’s team than the women’s equivalent.

The arguments, made as the team and U.S. Soccer face an increasingly unbridgeable gap as they brace for a federal trial in May, infuriated the players, as well as at least three powerful U.S. Soccer board members.

“To see that blatant misogyny and sexism as the argument used against us is really disappointing,” midfielder Megan Rapinoe said after her team’s 3-1 win over Japan in the U.S. Soccer-organized SheBelieves Cup on Wednesday night.

“I know that we’re in a contentious fight,” she added in comments to reporters in Frisco, Texas, “but that crossed a line completely.”

Chris Ahrens, a former Paralympian, said he was “deeply troubled, saddened and angry by the comments” and had requested a meeting with U.S. Soccer’s leadership and the members of the legal team.

Don Garber, the commissioner of Major League Soccer and a longtime U.S. Soccer board member, said in a statement that he expressed to Cordeiro “how unacceptable and offensive I found the statements in that filing to be.”

Cindy Parlow Cone, the vice president of U.S. Soccer and a former women’s national team player, said on Thursday that she was “hurt and saddened by the brief U.S.S.F. filed.” She added: “I disavow the troubling statements.”

Cone, 41, who was elected vice president last year, will take over for Cordeiro. She is the first woman to serve as U.S. Soccer’s president.

Rapinoe said the legal filings, made by some of the same lawyers who will face the players across the table in collective bargaining negotiations next year, had caused “irreparable damage” to the relationship between the team and U.S. Soccer. But they also appeared to damage important relationships between the federation and its sponsors.

Coca-Cola, Volkswagen, Budweiser, Visa and Deloitte — the presenting sponsor of the SheBelieves Cup — all condemned U.S. Soccer for condoning the legal arguments. Volkswagen on Thursday declared itself “disgusted” by the positions taken. “They are simply unacceptable,” the company said in a statement, adding that “we stand by the USWNT and the ideals they represent for the world.”

Notably, Nike, which paid the federation $22 million last year and is its biggest sponsor, did not comment on the filing.

It was not the first time the equal pay fight had seen sponsors side with the team against the federation they pay. Last summer, Procter & Gamble urged the federation to be “on the right side of history” in the dispute, and donated more than $500,000 to the women’s team’s players association. Nike and Visa also said they supported the players at the time.

The players made their own statement on Wednesday. Before the game against Japan, they came onto the field for pregame drills with their training tops turned inside out — hiding the U.S. Soccer crest and leaving visible only the four stars representing the team’s four World Cup triumphs.

“I think it was a powerful message, without having to really send a message,” striker Carli Lloyd said after the victory, answering questions in front of a backdrop that featured the logos of Coca-Cola, Visa, Budweiser, Nike and other sponsors.

She added: “We don’t want to be in this position, but we are here and it’s just got to be better.”

Before the night ended, the blank crest with the four stars was showing up in fans’ social media avatars and on shirts that were licensed by the players’ union.

The filing, made late Monday night, opposed the women’s team’s motion for partial summary judgment in the equal pay lawsuit. In it, U.S. Soccer argued “the job of MNT player carries more responsibility within U.S. Soccer than the job of WNT player,” using the abbreviations for the men’s and women’s national teams, in regards to a claim under the equal pay act. They also argued the job of a men’s team player “requires a higher level of skill based on speed and strength.”

In his statement, Cordeiro said he did not “have the opportunity to fully review the filing in its entirety before it was submitted, and I take responsibility for not doing so.”

While the filing may have been stark in its tone, it wasn’t appreciably different from the legal strategy U.S. Soccer has pursued for the past year. “That all sounded pretty similar to what we’ve heard before,” Rapinoe said after the game. “You want to talk about hostility? Every negotiation that we have, those undertones are in there, that we are lesser.”

After two days of being pilloried by players, sponsors and fans, U.S. Soccer seemed to realize that what its lawyers believe are winning legal arguments won’t necessarily be received well in a high-profile case where every legal filing is immediately dissected publicly.

Before his resignation, Cordeiro said U.S. Soccer had rehired a law firm — curiously, one that had been part of earlier equal pay fights with the players — to join the federation’s side in the gender discrimination case “and guide our legal strategy going forward.”

Assuming that the judge in the case does not grant either side’s motions for summary judgment — a ruling that essentially says one side has proved its argument without need for a trial — and that a settlement is not forthcoming, the case is scheduled to go to trial May 5.



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