When the U.S. Soccer Federation confirmed it had hired its first female programming general manager, the announcement was strange.
Former player Kate Markgraf was selected for the role, which was hailed as a step forward for the United States women’s national team program. In fact, her hiring was expected after US Soccer revealed plans to hire a female general manager more than a year earlier. But diverting some of his attention was a surprise announcement that came at the same time: Earnie Stewart, who became the federation’s first male general manager about a year earlier, had been promoted to athletic director and would immediately become chief. by Markgraf.
Multiple sources tell The Guardian that prior to the announcement there was concern within US Soccer about Stewart’s much higher salary compared to Markgraf’s for the same “general manager” position. That disparity, worried some executives and board members, would not look good, especially as the federation fought back on the USWNT’s high-profile demand for equal pay.
When Stewart was hired as a men’s general manager in 2018, his starting salary was $ 700,000, not including bonuses, according to multiple sources. Markgraf, meanwhile, began her role as a female CEO in 2019 with a salary of around $ 500,000.
That huge pay gap could perhaps be explained by Stewart’s long resume of technical experience compared to Markgraf, who would be new to a general manager position. But the role of the men’s general manager was also much smaller in scope, and when Stewart was first hired, he was only expected to oversee the men’s senior team. Markgraf, meanwhile, was tasked with not only the senior women’s team, but all the women’s side youth programming as well.
By the time Stewart was promoted to be US Soccer’s first athletic director, his main achievement after a year as general manager had been the hiring of USMNT coach Gregg Berhalter. The hiring had been a slow and lax process, leading critics to wonder why Stewart deserved a promotion. But in her new role, which came with a salary increase of about $ 800,000, Stewart was put in charge of all aspects of the federation’s soccer operations, despite having no prior experience on the women’s side of the sport.
Multiple sources cite GM’s pay disparity, which would eventually have been made public on the federation’s tax returns, as a factor in the timing of Stewart’s promotion. The federation had been haunted not only by the USWNT’s ongoing equal pay lawsuit, but also by reports that World Cup winner Jill Ellis was being paid less than her male counterparts, prompting discussions on the optics of discrepancy.
Sources close to the federation object to that, saying there were indeed discussions about possible negative publicity about such a large pay gap between the two general managers, but there were separate conversations about whether Stewart ad Markgraf should report to the CEO of US Soccer or a new technical director. Ultimately, US Soccer decided to promote Stewart and felt it made sense for Markgraf to inform him immediately.
When Brian McBride was hired last year as the new male general manager to replace Stewart, the sources add, he was hired for less than $ 400,000 – a significant drop in Markgraf’s salary, which sources say prove many factors besides gender. determine wages.
But the optics of the pay disparity between US Soccer’s top two GMs and the internal admission that it may be a problem, coupled with the ill-timed announcement of Stewart’s promotion to Markgraf’s boss, play on the broader perception of a double standards. It is also a perception that will not go away anytime soon.
This is because, by the end of February, US Soccer is due to report part of its 2019 spending in compensation, and those reports will show once again that Ellis, who won two World Cups, made less money than his male counterpart Berhalter.
That comes after years of similar disclosures. Last year’s tax returns showed that Berhalter made almost as much money in one month as Ellis had made in an entire year. The previous year, submissions showed Ellis had earned less than a USMNT youth coach and assistant coach, and Jürgen Klinsmann had been paid almost 11 times more than Ellis, despite not working for the federation since 2016 and being part of USMNT’s failed campaign. to qualify for a World Cup.
The federation’s argument in defense of paying Ellis much less than the men’s coaches is the same for hiring Markgraf at a lower salary than Stewart: market value. It costs more money to move Stewart away from his athletic director role at the Philadelphia Union after similar stints for Dutch clubs than to hire Markgraf, who had worked outside of football at the academy.
That speaks to another aspect of market realities: There aren’t that many GMs in women’s soccer, and US Soccer would almost certainly have to hire someone who had never done the job before. McBride, in particular, has never had a head office job in sports, but if US Soccer felt it was a necessary requirement on the part of men, they would have had plenty of other candidates to choose from, who may have demanded higher salaries.
Whether market realities can explain the pay gaps or not, US Soccer over the years has often not done enough to get the benefit of the doubt.
Even if the blatant disregard for women’s play that was evident in the 1990s is no more, lingering discrepancies between men’s and women’s teams have often only been fixed after someone complained, as was the case with US Soccer. that promised equal playing surfaces and hotel accommodations. for the USWNT last year. Fueling the demand for equal pay that made headlines at the USWNT was a handful of petty, indefensible, and unnecessary discrepancies, like giving male players $ 75 a day while female players received $ 60.
If there is any reason to believe that US Soccer will finally be able to find a way to escape the constant narrative of double standards, it is this: All of these controversies began under previous regimes that are largely no more.
Carlos Cordeiro, president of US Soccer when Markgraf and Stewart were hired, left. After vowing to be the agent of change who would repair US Soccer’s image, Cordeiro was forced to resign after two years when US Soccer’s lawyers admitted that the federation viewed female players as inherently inferior to male players. Former CEO Dan Flynn and his right-hand man, Jay Berhalter, also left.
Now it’s up to President Cindy Parlow Cone, a former USWNT player and first US Soccer President, and CEO Will Wilson, who took office last year just as Covid-19 hit, forcing layoffs in the entire federation and to stop suddenly what would be It has been a busy year for the sport. To that end, both Parlow Cone and Wilson face the difficult task of moving US Soccer forward after almost everything went off course in 2020.
But for far too long, US Soccer has apparently been on automatic pilot when certain decisions are made: like paying unequal wages or presenting sexist legal arguments. And only after the fact does the realization come that it looks bad and needs to be addressed in some way. After a year in which autopilot just wasn’t possible, perhaps a change in the way decisions are made is part of US Soccer’s road back.
George is Digismak’s reported cum editor with 13 years of experience in Journalism