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Women's Soccer Is Done Playing Nice

When the U.S. Women's National Soccer Team plays in Los Angeles, they fly coach. Upon landing, they head to the Belamar in Manhattan Beach, where the swankiest room costs about as much as the cheapest room at the Langham.

The men have never won a World Cup. The women are the reigning champs.

These inequities aren't limited to travel. According to the2015 audited financial statements of U.S. Soccer, expenses for the U.S. Men's National Team in 2015 were over $31.1 million; the U.S. Women's National Team cost the organization just over $10.3 million. Last year, the head coach for the men's team earned a salary of $3.2 million; the head coach for the women's team made a whopping $185,000. (This year, her salary was generously raised to $250,000.) When the men's team is scheduled to compete on artificial turf, natural grass is laid down just for the match; the women's team had to play much of their 2015 World Cup victory tour on artificial grass. "Out of a 400-player roster, my least famous male client doesn't deal with this level of difficulty," says a marketing consultant who represents a number of NFL players.

These inequalities are embarrassing: How, in 2016, do we not treat elite athletes who play the same sport for the same employer precisely the same? Inequalities between male and female leagues—say, the NBA and the WNBA—are often excused by the fact that they are run by different organizations. But the men's national team and the women's national team are both run by U.S Soccer.

These inequalities are illogical: Members of the women's team are arguably more famous than their male counterparts, and in recent years they have brought in more money for the federation. The New York Times estimates a profit of more than $5 million for the women's team this fiscal year, while the men will lose about $1 million. And there is undoubtedly more money to be made. When the women's team rose to prominence in the late '90s, they tapped into a young, largely female audience: "the most under-served audience in the sports world," as Dave Zirin wrote in The Nation.

In a fundamental sense, these inequalities are unfair. "All these little things can seem superficial," said Hope Solo when I spoke to her this spring in Denver, where the U.S. Women's team had gathered to play a friendly against Japan. "But they add up. When the men have those resources at their disposal, it presents us as a second-rate team."

But these inequalities are not illegal. This is simply the state of so-called equal rights in elite soccer and, to some extent, any situation in which a working woman finds herself treated as lesser than her male peer. Unless you can prove discrimination under the definition afforded by Title VII of the Civil Rights Act (which prohibits employment discrimination based on sex, among other things) or the Equal Pay Act (which mandates that men and women must be paid the same amount for the same work), your main recourse is negotiation. Good luck with that: Studies show that women who negotiate like men (i.e., aggressively) are regularly penalized for doing so.

This past March, five members of the U.S. women's team filed a complaint with the Equal Employment Opportunity Commission (EEOC), the federal agency that monitors employment discrimination, arguing that U.S. Soccer had broken the law in paying them less than their male counterparts. The team members—Carli Lloyd, Alex Morgan, Megan Rapinoe, Rebecca (Becky) Sauerbrunn, and Hope Solo—argued that they had been systematically discriminated against when it came to their compensation. (The complaint was filed at the same time that a legally unrelated lawsuit over the players' right to strike was unfolding; that case was decided against the players in early June.) As stated in the complaint, "Our compensation pales in comparison to that of the Men's National Team players given that the women and the men perform the same job duties; have jobs that require equal skill, effort and responsibilities; and perform our jobs under similar working conditions." As one of the lawyers for the players, Jeffrey Kessler, put it to me over the phone, the case presents "an almost classic example of gender discrimination."

The EEOC is currently investigating the claim. If they decide that U.S. Soccer has broken the law, charges will be filed against them, and the federation will either settle with the EEOC and provide equal pay or an administrative action against the federation will commence. U.S. Soccer declined to comment specifically for this article, but in a general statement released in March the federation stated that it remained "committed to and engaged in negotiating a new collective bargaining agreement that addresses compensation … to take effect when the current CBA expires at the end of this year."

No one is denying that a discrepancy between the male and female players exists. But how did this pay disparity come about? It's fairly complicated, and the complexity of the players' pay structure has insulated U.S. Soccer somewhat from the charges of outright discrimination. In The New York Times' even-handed assessment, editors had a hard time directly assigning blame due to the myriad ways you can slice and dice the cash. Because the national team players' income comes from several sources (base salaries, bonuses for winning, official sponsorship appearances, etc.), and because the men and the women's teams negotiate separately, these arrangements are very messy beasts.

But here's how some of the starkest inequalities in pay play out, as outlined in the EEOC complaint.

All this is justifiable according to the agreements governing how the players get paid. But just because something is legitimate according to a contract doesn't make it right. Arguments that rest on "the rules" have a tendency to disadvantage those who have traditionally been outside the bodies who make them—funny how that happens. When it comes to the pay gap more broadly, it's easy to explain the status quo by attributing it not to systemic inequality and discrimination but to women's "choices": they gravitate toward lower-paid careers; they take time off to have kids, which sets them back in their earning potential; whatever. (Studies have shown that most of these "reasons" are deeply flawed.)

There's a not dissimilar argument taking place here: the female soccer players bargained for different things than the men—maternity leave at half-pay, for example (what a luxury). "We're passionate about playing soccer, but we realize that life has other chapters," Becky Sauerbrunn, one of the co-captains of the women's team, told me in Denver. "We are playing during our most fertile years. It's important that mothers can come back and play. They shouldn't be penalized for having kids." When women are bargaining for benefits like parental leave, it makes a certain, twisted kind of "sense" that they would be paid less overall.

There's another, harder-to-pinpoint cause behind the inequality, and it's something that affects many women: a sense that they'd better not push their luck. When I spoke with members of the women's team last month, several of them mentioned that it took years for them to get over the idea that they shouldn't get ahead of themselves by asking for too much. "It became something we were accustomed to," said Solo. "Because we were getting paid to play the game of soccer, everybody just accepted the situation." This is particularly understandable when you consider the conditions that players who play professionally but don't make the national team tolerate: four-figure salaries, living with host families, an itinerant and untethered life.

The implicit argument posed by the soccer federation—and, presumably, inadvertently accepted by some of the players—was that it was the team's obligation to build up an audience for the sport in America, and that they needed to make some sacrifices to do so. There was a degree of guilt involved, Solo said, a message that "the future generations wanted a place to play professional soccer in America, and it was our obligation to give it to them." Even for the 1999 team, which, with its blockbuster World Cup victory, made players like Mia Hamm into household names, there was a sense, said Solo, that all the players had to be the "girl next door"—"winners on the field but still quiet and nice with the same personality." None of the players "stood out, nobody used their voice, nobody was outspoken." Remnants of this dutiful daughter role remain. Today, the players will stay for hours signing autographs and meeting fans. "I would never, ever let any of my male players do a free appearance for a league unless a charity were involved," says the marketing consultant.

These women know that they are lucky, and they are gracious and humble, and, frankly, probably more than happy to stick around and tend to their fans. But they are also steely and confident about their fight. They are done with tepid typecasting, done with altruistic obligation that puts them at a disadvantage, done with the implication that they are any less badass than the men. "It's not enough to just say it's going to get better," midfielder Megan Rapinoe told me. "The people at the top obviously enjoy the status quo. Sometimes you have to use the law to topple that." They have good reason to display this degree of determination. After all, it's not just little girls who are watching them, it's little boys, and the rest of the world, too, when they head to Rio in four weeks.

When I spoke with Kessler, he was cautiously optimistic about the prospects for the complaint. To him, this is clearly a legal issue, and the players are transparently in the right. "If an employer came to a union and said, 'We're not going to give you a minimum wage unless you trade us something else,' no one would accept that," he said. "Why should the players have to bargain for something that they're entitled to legally?" The players, he said, are going to get equal pay through legal means so that they can negotiate for other things. Unfortunately, they have plenty left to bargain for.

Meleanie Hain: Gun-Carrying Soccer Mom Killed By Husband In Murder Suicide

LEBANON, Pa. – A soccer mom who was thrust into the national gun-rights debate after taking a loaded pistol to youth sports events was killed by her husband in a shooting witnessed online by her video chat partner, authorities said Friday.

Scott Hain used his own gun to fire several shots into his 30-year-old wife, Meleanie, while her video chat was active and perhaps as she washed dishes in their kitchen, police said. Scott Hain, 33, later killed himself in an upstairs bedroom.

Meleanie Hain's loaded pistol — with a bullet ready in the chamber — was in a backpack hanging from the front door.

The couple's three young children were home just before the murder-suicide, but authorities stopped short of saying they were home at the time. The online friend heard a shot and screams and turned to see Scott Hain firing, they said.

He "observed Scott Hain standing over where Meleanie was and discharging a handgun several times," Lebanon Police Chief Daniel Wright said at a news conference. The man, who was described as a friend of both Scott and Meleanie Hain, called 911.

"He kept open his Web cam episode; however, he heard nothing or saw nothing after that," Wright said. The chat was apparently not recorded.

Meleanie Hain became a voice of the gun-rights movement last year when she fought for the right to carry a holstered pistol at her young daughter's soccer games. Other parents complained, prompting a sheriff to revoke her concealed-weapons permit, a decision a judge later overturned.

"I'm just a soccer mom who has always openly carried (a firearm), and I've never had a problem before," Hain said last fall. "I don't understand why this is happening to me."

The Hains later sued the sheriff who had revoked her gun permit. The $1 million suit, which claims they suffered emotional distress and lost customers for her home baby-sitting service, remains pending against Lebanon County Sheriff Michael DeLeo.

Scott Hain, a parole officer, owned the 9 mm handgun used to kill his wife. He then killed himself with a shotgun, authorities said after Friday's autopsies. Police found several handguns, a shotgun, two rifles and several hundred rounds of ammunition in their Lebanon home, as well as six spent shell casings in the kitchen.

Friends and neighbors told police the couple had been having marital problems, but police knew of no immediate cause of the violence. Scott Hain was living at the family home at the time, Wright said.

Their three children are ages 2, 6 and 10.

Neighbor Aileen Fortna has said the children told another neighbor that "daddy shot mommy."

The judge who restored Meleanie Hain's concealed-weapon permit last year questioned her judgment and said she had "scared the devil" out of other parents in the football arena.