US Soccer Federation President Carlos Cordeiro resigned over USWNT equal pay lawsuit backlash — but he’s just a symptom of a larger problem

Carlos Cordeiro is out at president of the US Soccer Federation.

Just one day after the US Women’s National Team protested his comments and the federation’s filings in their gender discrimination lawsuit, Cordeiro resigned his post and cited the need for “a new direction” for US Soccer in a letter posted to Twitter.

Cordeiro first took over as the face of the federation in February 2018, and since then, US Soccer’s conflict with the USWNT has escalated considerably. While the team’s original equal pay dispute first began in 2016, 28 of its players filed a lawsuit under the Equal Pay Act and Title VII of the Civil Rights Act mere months before the 2019 World Cup. In the suit, the USWNT alleged that the federation engaged in “institutionalized gender discrimination” against the team.

The past few weeks have been particularly contentious, as both parties submitted filings for the lawsuit outlining their respective stances. The women’s players requested a summary judgment that would award them $67 million in damages, while the federation claimed the USWNT players have no grounds for a discrimination lawsuit because “men are bigger, stronger, faster” and thus perform different jobs from the women.

It wasn’t until this week that Cordeiro began really feeling the heat

On Saturday night, mere hours before International Women’s Day and the USWNT’s SheBelieves Cup game against Spain, Cordeiro released an open letter via Twitter that defended the federation by claiming that it offered “identical compensation to our women’s and men’s players for all matches controlled by U.S. Soccer.”

In a statement provided to The Athletic’s Meg Linehan, however, USWNT spokesperson Molly Levinson claimed that Cordeiro’s letter was “riddled with falsehoods” and that the timing indicates “that it is more important to USSF to diminish the women’s team than it is to support them on the field.”

Unsurprisingly, USWNT players were quite displeased with the development.

After the game, Megan Rapinoe called the letter “disappointing” while teammate and USWNT Players Association President Becky Sauerbrunn said, “it was very ill-timed.”

Three days later, the women’s players bit back. Prior to their third and final SheBelieves Cup match Wednesday, members of the team protested the federation by wearing their warm-up jerseys inside-out so as to hide sponsorship logos and the US Soccer crest. Notably, the four stars representing their four World Cup victories showed through the fabric.

Cordeiro faced intensifying pressure from the public and US Soccer sponsors like Coca Cola, Visa, and Volkswagen. And as a result, he issued yet another statement during Wednesday night’s game in which he quickly backpedaled and apologized for “the offense and pain” caused by the federation’s stance in the equal pay lawsuit.

It wasn’t enough. Several US Soccer board members rebuked the governing body’s legal filings in the hours following and, by Thursday night, Cordeiro had announced his resignation on Twitter before telling the federation’s communications staff.

Fans and USWNT faithful are hailing Cordeiro’s departure from the US Soccer organization as a victory

Former national team player and longtime USSF Vice President Cindy Parlow Cone has stepped into Cordeiro’s abdicated position, becoming the first female president in the history of US Soccer. And while this could be a turning point for the federation and its relationship with the USWNT, its undoubtedly misguided to pin all of US Soccer’s problems on one man.

Yes, he undoubtedly oversaw and was, at best, complicit in the mistreatment of the USWNT. Sure, his rebuttals of the women’s statements were often ill-timed and tone-deaf. And yes, at the end of the day, we will find him on the wrong side of history. But does that mean that the problems the USWNT has been enduring since long before the start of Cordeiro’s reign are suddenly solved? Almost certainly not.

And the USWNT players are aware of this fact.

As Southside Trap Podcast’s Claire Watkins noted Thursday night, the USWNT players are still on course to battle the federation in court as soon as May 5. Cordeiro’s noninvolvement changes that little, if at all. For months, US Soccer’s legal team has adhered to a defense rooted in sexism in the equal pay lawsuit – as evidenced by transcripts from depositions in which USWNT players were repeatedly asked about their physical abilities compared to those of men’s players. Only once sponsors began tacitly threatening to pull their investments from US Soccer did members of the federation’s board – including newly-minted USSF President Cindy Parlow Cone – begin to speak out.

While Cone may have increased empathy for the current USWNT players as a former player herself, there’s no denying that, as Vice President of US Soccer for more than a year, she’s been aware of and involved in the federation’s misogynistic treatment of the women’s team.

It’s impossible to blame any single actor

Professional female athletes still make pennies on their male counterparts’ dollars. Their critics argue that women aren’t deserving of more because they don’t garner the same viewership or revenue as the men. And while this simply isn’t true for the USWNT, according to PolitiFact, it is undoubtedly the case for women’s domestic leagues like the NWSL, WNBA, and NWHL.

As Kelsey Trainor deftly explains in her Twitter thread from December 2019, “men’s sports are hundreds of years ahead of women’s in terms of investment and coverage,” and thus women’s sports leagues cannot possibly be fairly held to the same performance standards as men’s leagues. Still, critics of women’s sports employ the argument that female athletes will never be big enough, strong enough, fast enough, and therefore entertaining enough, to merit that level of coverage or investment.

This is the argument put forth by the US Soccer Federation in its lawsuit. It’s the same line of thinking espoused by social media trolls who leave nasty, degrading comments beneath WNBA Instagram posts, NWSL Twitter highlights, and literally any story I write that mentions Megan Rapinoe in the headline.

Megan Rapinoe became the face of the USWNT's equal pay fight when she publicly feuded with President Donald Trump during the 2019 World Cup.

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Megan Rapinoe became the face of the USWNT’s equal pay fight when she publicly feuded with President Donald Trump during the 2019 World Cup.
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Getty Images/Molly Darlington

Whether the USWNT players – and their supporters – explicitly know it or not, their battle is against an opponent far bigger and far less concrete than Carlos Cordeiro, Cindy Parlow Cone, or the US Soccer Federation. It goes beyond both the soccer pitch, the country they represent, and their individual bank accounts. And while the world of athletics is certainly a microcosm for the larger issue at hand, I would argue that the USWNT players’ fight transcends sports.

By engaging in this conflict, the team is pushing back against the traditional understanding of what women can do.

They’re battling the learned understanding that women are inherently less capable and less deserving than men.

They’re fighting against misogyny and sexism itself.

Perhaps Rapinoe put it best in her post-match interview with Julie Foudy Wednesday evening:

“To see blatant misogyny and sexism as the argument against us is really disappointing, but I just want to say it’s all false. To every girl out there, to every boy out there, who watches this team and who wants to be on this team or just live their dream out: you are not lesser just because you are a girl, you are not better just because you are a boy. We are all created equal and should all have the equal opportunity to go out and pursue our dreams.”