Hartford, Ct. – On Tuesday morning, less than one week after five of the most prominent players on the United States Women’s National Team filed a federal complaint with the Equal Employment Opportunity Commission (EEOC) charging U.S. Soccer with wage discrimination, the defending World Cup and Olympic Champions rolled into Hartford, Connecticut to prepare for Wednesday night’s friendly against Colombia.
Just in from sunny Florida the Americans practiced on an artificial turf field just that morning plowed clear of snow at the tony all girls Miss Porter’s School in Farmington, Connecticut.
Afterward, team co-captain, Becky Sauerbrunn, one of the five signees of the players complaint, sat down with GotSoccer in the team’s hotel lobby in downtown Hartford.
“100%,” was the center back’s immediate answer when asked if the EEOC complaint fits in with team’s image as positive role models for girls and women.
“I think this fight goes well beyond women’s soccer,” the World Cup winner told GotSoccer, adding, “it goes beyond women and sports.” In fact, the FC Kansas City stalwart sees this dispute as a battle for, “any woman that has been discriminated against in any workplace.”
Coach Jill Ellis named Sauerbrunn and Carli Lloyd co-captains in January putting the pair at the core of a new leadership group within the team that includes Hope Solo, Alex Morgan, and Megan Rapinoe, the other three signatories on the complaint, along with the co-captains.
Sauerbrunn explained how her name ended up on that EEOC complaint while also shedding some light on how the U.S. WNT players operate behind the scenes.
“It’s funny,” Sauerbrunn began, “because it was voted upon (by the team) who was going to be in the group that worked most closely with our general counsel, as far as negotiations went. And then there are also other voted upon groups within our team to help out with other things.”
“So, the five of us who signed the complaint are the five of us who worked most closely with the lawyers.”
With the group reporting back to rest of the team the decision was made to file the complaint, in part as a reaction to a lawsuit filed by U.S. Soccer in February. The U.S. Soccer lawsuit contends that the Collective Bargaining Agreement between the players union and the governing body, which expired in 2012, is still in effect because the sides later signed a Memorandum of Agreement.
Given that the Memorandum of Agreement expires at the end of 2016 GotSoccer asked Sauerbrunn why the players chose this moment to file its EEOC complaint.
Sauerbrunn was blunt, “we felt that during our negotiations most recently that U.S. Soccer wasn’t going to meet the compensation objectives that we set for ourselves and talks kind of stagnated and this we felt was the next logical step in order to fight for what we felt we were owed.”
Reaction to the player’s action has been, “95 % positive,” Sauerbrunn said, though she admitted that, “ we get the occasional reaction, ‘well, you know, you’re women, you just don’t deserve to get paid as much cause not as good,’ but, for the most part, everyone’s super positive,” the defender said, “and just wondering how they can help.”
Less positive was the news that former U.S. WNT star Abby Wambach had been arrested on DUI charges this weekend in Oregon, so we asked Sauerbrunn for her reaction to her former teammates troubles.
“I appreciate that she owned up to it and took full responsibility,” Sauerbrunn said, adding, “she knows she did a stupid thing and now we just have to take her at her word that she won’t do anything like that again.”
The team has been through the mill more than once with Hope Solo’s legal issues and Sauerbrunn doesn’t believe that Wambach’s troubles will hurt its reputation as role models. “It shouldn’t,” the co-captain said. “I mean Abby is her own person, and once again, she took full responsibility and she knows that she should have set a better example for the people that look up to her and that’s a battle that she has to face now on her own.”
Sauerbrunn added quickly, “We’re obviously going to support her and help her but she did a stupid thing, and she knows it.”
Through it all, the U.S. has continued to win games and tournaments including the recent inaugural edition of the SheBelieves Cup which Sauerbrunn joked the players referred to as the “mini World Cup.”
“I think it was an amazing tournament,” Sauerbrunn enthused. “Each game was a battle and it was against a world-class team.” On Wednesday night at Pratt and Whitney Stadium in East Hartford, the U.S will be in for a battle against Colombia, who played the eventual champions close in a rugged 2-0 U.S. win in the 2015 World Cup.
The same sides will go at it again on April 10 at Talen Energy Stadium in Chester, Pennsylvania, and Sauerbrunn is looking forward to the games. “They’re a wonderful test,” the 30-year old said. “They’re a team that is really comfortable on the ball, has individual flair, they’ve got great set pieces.” “It’s just a great test to see where we are,” Sauerbrunn said with relish.
Could strained relations between U.S. Soccer and its most successful representatives cause problems on the pitch GotSoccer wondered? Sauerbrunn took a breath before answering in the negative. “When we step on the field, there’s no problem. We wouldn’t do the sport or our supporters the disservice of bringing off-field matters onto the field.”
So Colombia, consider yourselves warned if any warning was necessary. And while Sauerbrunn is anything but a braggart, the Olympic field might find a warning in the defenders answer when asked if going to Rio as two-time defending Gold Medalists as well as reigning World Champions might be a burden.
“No, we feel confident,” Sauerbrunn said well, confidently. “We been number one in the world pretty consistently now for a bunch of years, so we always have kind of a target on our back.”
“And,” Sauerbrunn went on, “just because we’re reigning Gold Medalists doesn’t mean that our motivation, inspiration, or our dedication or commitment changes in any way.”
“We’re going (to the Olympics) with the sole goal of winning the entire thing, again.” A warning? No, that wouldn’t be Becky Sauerbrunn’s style. Then again, it might be wise to take it as one.