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View From The Booth: Move past soccer’s Battle of the Sexes

Argue for the USWNT, but don’t sully the righteous logic by dragging the men in.

Megan Rapinoe (right) and the USWNT celebrate another World Cup. - U.S. SOCCER

Pittsburgh Riverhounds SC play-by-play broadcaster Matt Gajtka brings his perspective on the sport in his ‘View From The Booth’ commentary. Listen to the audio version here.

They meant well, but the effect was the opposite as what was desired.

In an attempt to further the cause of equal compensation for the United States women’s national team, thousands of Stars and Stripes fanatics took to social media to fight the latest round of the Battle of the Sexes. The problem is that’s always been a plague on women’s sports in general.

Yes, the official World Cup title count is now 4-0 in favor of the USWNT over the men’s national team, and if we must do comparisons, it’s really not even as close as that. The women are pioneering contenders for everything there is to contend for in international soccer, while the men have been playing catch-up against most of the world since, well, forever.

But the problem with this conceit overall is in the comparison itself. Even in 2019, countless sports fans have a hard time considering women’s sports without using men’s sports as a context.

Even in this case, when the juxtaposition couldn’t be more favorable toward the women, anyone who references the superior accomplishments or popularity of the women’s team is perpetuating what I’d call the Adam-and-Eve framework.

Most women’s sports were standardized much later than their male counterparts, but that doesn’t mean women’s sports were born from men’s sports, a mere rib yanked out of the original to create a complement.

I’m begging the sporting world at large to free its collective mind. Let’s address women’s sports as an entirely separate entity, which it is. One that doesn’t require the validation of comparison to the male side of the coin.

And as odd as this might sound to your ear, that also means that any talk of ‘equal pay’ is actually shortsighted in the long run, even as it seems progressive in the short term.

Forget equal. Why not compensate these champions on their own scale, rewarding their accomplishments with payouts that just might be greater than what’s afforded to USMNT players?

FIFA’s gender-based pay disparity for its World Cup champions is eye-popping, for sure, but there’s nothing keeping the U.S. Soccer Federation from allocating additional capital toward the team that brings it the most notoriety and general good feeling.

For an organization that has taken a rightful beating over the years, the USWNT has made a habit of putting a winning sheen on the whole thing.

It doesn’t take a comparison with their male counterparts to realize that, but we keep seeing that sort of thing in the public discourse. I’m at least partially guilty of it here, simply by shining a light on the practice. I hope you’re the forgiving type.

But wait, there’s a little more. Not only is pitting women vs. men degrading to the former, it’s also intellectually dishonest.

As noted above, the USWNT were true trailblazers, with the onset of Title IX combining with advances in feminism to put our nation in position to dominate the women’s game once it hit the big time in the 1990s.

In an era of sport when it’s more difficult than ever to run the table, our women are as close to a juggernaut as you can find. You don’t need me to tell you the case is quite different on the men’s side, where the USMNT faces immense challenges, both internal and external. We can debate the difficulty of these challenges, but they’re there.

To compare the landscape of international men’s soccer to the women’s game is both nonsensical and disingenuous. Certainly the USMNT has underachieved when considering our nation’s resources and its population, but only those disassociated with reality would argue they should have won a World Cup by now, or even come close.

So argue away in favor of the pride of Uncle Sam this summer, the ultra-decorated USWNT. Some wrongs must be righted regarding the players’ livelihoods, but don’t sully the righteous logic by dragging the men into the battle. There’s more than enough ammunition to assail the USSF without that.

Besides, nothing good ever came from dividing what should be a common cause: Seeing the Red, White and Blue at the top of more worldwide podiums, regardless of which gender happens to be competing.

Matt Gajtka (pronounced GITE-kah) is a columnist, analyst and reporter for Pittsburgh Soccer Now. In addition to his four-year role as play-by-play broadcaster for Riverhounds SC, he has experience covering pro and amateur sports for over a decade. Matt got his start in soccer while calling games for the Marshall University men's and women's Division I teams. He fondly remembers attending Hounds matches at Bethel Park High School, although he lapsed during the Moon and Chartiers Valley years. Like many, the construction of Highmark Stadium in 2013 rekindled his passion for the club and local soccer in general.

Riverhounds MF Danny Griffin

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