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Volume 26 No. 65

Leagues and Governing Bodies

Rapinoe admitted that the players' lawsuit eventually going to trial is a possibility
Photo: GETTY IMAGES

USWNT Fs Megan Rapinoe and Christen Press made the rounds on the network morning shows today responding to the breakdown in mediation talks with the U.S. Soccer Federation over their gender discrimination lawsuit, with Rapinoe saying when the USSF is "ready to have a serious conversation about equal pay, I think the conversations will go better." Rapinoe said, "We didn't feel like they were there or willing to go there." Press was asked about what the "sticking point" is in the negotiations and said, “Unfortunately, it was just the concept of paying us equally. We never even got past that." Press said the USWNT needs an "actual pay structure moving forward where we're being compensated equally." She added, "We'll never achieve, as women, any type of social equality without financial equality and we're looking for equal pay, not any talking about it any longer." Rapinoe admitted having the suit go to trial is “definitely a possibility,” though she added, "We're always open to hearing that conversation if they're ready to have it." She added, "I don't think anybody wants to go to litigation, but with that said we're very confident in our case" (“Today,” NBC, 8/15). Rapinoe said at any point when the USSF is "willing and ready to come and have a serious talk about equal pay, we’re always willing to listen to that” (“CBS This Morning,” 8/15). When asked what the plan would be if the players lose at trial, Press said, “You’re asking the wrong people, 'What if we lose?'" (“GMA,” ABC, 8/15). The Guardian's Beau Dure asked, "So when does Cordeiro go on the morning shows? Or Cindy Cone? Or Dan Flynn? Or Jay Berhalter? Not saying it's a good idea. Might hurt their case in court of public opinion. But it'd be good to hear them beyond the rare stone tablet handed down from Chicago" (TWITTER.com, 8/15).

HISTORY REPEATING ITSELF: USWNT F Tobin Heath, before yesterday's development, said the fight for equal has always been "synonymous" with the women's team. She added, "Through systematic discrimination, it's built up to this point. It's not like it has happened overnight. It's been going on forever." Heath: "If winning the last two World Cups were just to get to this moment in history where we can stand up for everyone and say everyone should be treated equally and respected equally in the workplace, then that's what are our lives and this fight is about" (BIZJOURNALS.com, 8/15). USWNT D Crystal Dunn earlier this week said, "This fight isn’t just for us. It’s for women across the board, in all avenues, all aspects of life." She added, "I feel like this cry has been heard for so long, but no one’s been really acting on it. Us filing a lawsuit was our way of saying, ‘We’re tired of talking, we’re tired of complaining or tweeting. Now it’s about actions being taken'" (USA TODAY, 8/15). 

PUT IN WRITING: The WALL STREET JOURNAL's Rachel Bachman reports a USWNT player on Monday emailed the USSF BOD a letter signed by all 28 players that "lays out the history of the women’s pay complaints" against the federation going back to '99 and "calls on the board to take action." The letter "details more extensively than ever before the players’ account of how they came to sue their governing body." It describes "'grueling months' of negotiations over" their current CBA, and a "parallel attempt to seek better pay and working conditions from the U.S. Equal Employment Opportunity Commission, with which five players filed a complaint against" USSF in spring '16. The letter said that the EEOC "asked the federation, player representatives and the players’ association to attempt to mediate the players’ EEOC complaint," but the USSF "refused to even make an offer of equality." The letter notes that "after filing suit, the players reached out several times to Cordeiro in hopes of resolving the equal-pay dispute before the World Cup." The sides "couldn’t agree on terms for a meeting and never got together." The letter also "refers to the fact that several lawmakers have proposed legislation to address the equal-pay issue" (WALL STREET JOURNAL, 8/15).

Members of the USWNT originally had agreed to meet with the USSF secretly in N.Y.
Photo: GETTY IMAGES

The USWNT's gender-discrimination lawsuit against the U.S. Soccer Federation is most likely headed for a "jury trial" after mediation broke down just "three days" into the process, according to Liz Clarke of the WASHINGTON POST. The decision to end the talks was made public by USWNT spokesperson Molly Levinson, who issued a statement last night explaining that the players had concluded that the USSF and President Carlos Cordeiro were determined "to perpetuate fundamentally discriminatory workplace conditions and behavior." The USSF "countered with a statement characterizing Levinson’s remarks as 'inflammatory' and 'intended to paint our actions inaccurately and unfairly.'" USSF Chief Communications Officer Neil Buethe "reiterated the federation’s hope that mediation would produce an agreement" (WASHINGTON POST, 8/15).

STUCK AT A STANDSTILL: In N.Y., Andrew Das notes the USWNT and USSF had "agreed to meet secretly for several days" in N.Y. The sessions were to be the "most substantive face-to-face discussions between the team and the federation about equal pay and other workplace issues since they hammered out the details" of the current CBA in April '17. However, after "fiery statements from each side, the players and the federation signaled they remain far apart." With no further mediation sessions scheduled, and "old battles line seemingly reforming, the sides appear headed back to federal court -- and perhaps to a trial next year" (N.Y. TIMES, 8/15). SI.com's Grant Wahl noted if the case "goes back into the court system, it would trigger a period of discovery that would be unlikely to be in the interests" of the USSF. At the same time, the players would "face a real risk in the court system that winning their case would not be a slam dunk." It is "certainly possible, though, that both sides may still be posturing ahead of a potential settlement that would avoid having the case go back into the courts" (SI.com, 8/14). UCLA law professor Steven Bank tweeted it is "likely" the case and "possible appeals will run beyond the end of the USWNT CBA." Bank: "Since it will be difficult to negotiate a new CBA w/o closure on the case, labor strife is almost assured for another 2-3 years+ if they let this go to trial" (TWITTER.com, 8/14). 

IT WAS NEVER GOING TO BE EASY: SOCCER AMERICA's Paul Kennedy wrote given the "complexity of the facts of the case, the various dynamics involved in the case and the multiple arenas in which the equal pay fight is taking place, it was hard to imagine that there would be a quick resolution." Attorneys for the players and the federation are "slated to appear in Federal court on Monday for a scheduling conference, where they will present their discovery plans and case schedule." The case "would not go to a jury trial -- assuming there is no settlement -- until the end" of '20, after the Tokyo Games (SOCCERAMERICA.com, 8/15). USA TODAY's Nancy Armour writes the USSF is "never going to best the U.S. women in the court of public opinion." The numbers are "fuzzy enough that winning in the court of law is going to be equally challenging." The USSF has "taken umbrage at some of the women’s contentions -- notably their assertion that some women earn just 38% of what a member of the men’s team does -- apparently not realizing that good lawyers present facts in whatever way is most favorable to their clients." The USSF itself has "not been above making claims that aren’t wholly accurate" (USA TODAY, 8/15).

A WOMAN'S WORTH: The N.Y. Daily News' Jane McManus tweeted, "The way US Soccer is responding to USWNT on pay equity raises the question, should a women’s team play for a federation that fundamentally finds it a less valuable property? It’s why Billie Jean King started the WTA rather than play for men who merely tolerated their presence. ... Could the USWNT appeal to friendly congressmembers to argue for a separate federation?" USA Today's Armour: "The @USWNT is @ussoccer’s most bankable commodity right now. ... Look at tix sales domestically, women have outpaced men in recent years. Impossible to tell with US sponsors or TV contacts bc they’re bundled. Regardless, they’re doing same job as the men - and they’re doing it better" (TWITTER.com, 8/15).

Jay-Z said he couldn't ignore the opportunity to accomplish big things and uplift communities
Photo: GETTY IMAGES

Jay-Z said that he can "help amplify" the NFL's Inspire Change initiative for social justice through his new partnership with the league, according to Jason Reid of THE UNDEFEATED. Jay-Z said that the opportunity to "potentially accomplish big things and uplift many in communities important to him was an opportunity he couldn't ignore." He added, "We forget that [Colin Kaepernick's] whole thing was to bring attention to social injustice. In that case, this is a success. This is the next phase." NFL Commissioner Roger Goodell said that he "knew exactly what to expect" when partnering with Jay-Z. Goodell: "I don't [think] either one of us expected that this relationship wouldn't have its critics. But you don't let the critics or the negativity overwhelm the chance to do something really positive." Jay-Z said that he understands many "believe he should have shut the door on the NFL." But he added, "People have to evolve. People have to want to be better and people have to want to have conversations." Patriots Owner Robert Kraft introduced Goodell and Jay-Z, "believing they would work well together." After Kraft participated in the first meeting, Goodell and Jay-Z "envisioned a path forward together" (ESPN.com, 8/14).

STILL STANDS WITH KAP: In N.Y., Ken Belson writes if Goodell thought that "teaming up with Jay-Z would end a perception that Kaepernick has been blackballed by the league, he was mistaken." Kaepernick's name was "invoked over and over in one way or another" at the press conference announcing the partnership between the league and Jay-Z' Roc Nation agency. The "first question to Jay-Z was why he had partnered with the league" with Kaepernick "unable to land a job in the NFL." Jay-Z said that through this deal, he and others could "follow up Kaepernick's protest by helping millions of people." Goodell said that player protests inspired by Kaepernick had "raised awareness of social injustice and that the focus should be on work the players are doing to solve problems." Belson writes this partnership may "raise a lot more money for groups fighting social injustice that the league is backing" through Inspire Change. However, the league is "probably going to have a hard time shaking the Kaepernick questions" (N.Y. TIMES, 8/15).

TAKING THE NEXT STEP: In N.Y., Stefan Bondy notes Jay-Z "views his project with the NFL as the next step after kneeling, an action that not only piggybacks Colin Kaepernick's movement but enhances it." Jay-Z: "We're [past] kneeling and I think it's time to go into action. I'm not minimizing that part of it. That has to happen. That's a necessary part of the process." Bondy notes the partnership between the NFL and Roc Nation was "pitched as 'unifying America' through education and actions that addressed policing and the criminal justice system." Presumably, this deal "has the monetary backing to invoke real social change" (N.Y. DAILY NEWS, 8/15). ESPN's Jason Fitz said, "If we actually want to move forward, it's going to take everybody on both sides saying, 'How do we maximize this partnership?'" ("Golic & Wingo," ESPN Radio, 8/15). THE ATLANTIC's Jemele Hill writes the new partnership is a "huge win" for the league, as it is "conceivable that some of those entertainers who distanced themselves from the NFL might change their mind" (THEATLANTIC.com, 8/15). 

LEADING THE CHARGE: ESPN's Jalen Rose said Jay-Z is the "perfect person that can embody a relationship that clearly has been fractured with the NFL and its public." Rose: "For the NFL it's a big leap forward in acknowledging that they need that olive branch" ("Jalen & Jacoby," ESPN2, 8/14). USA TODAY's Jarrett Bell writes this deal is "more intriguing" because of how Jay-Z was "one of the most prominent critics of Goodell's league for its handling of Kaepernick." Despite this, Jay-Z's "exemplary track record on social justice matters should have tremendous value" to the NFL. He is a "fitting partner for so many NFL players who have taken up the cause." Jay-Z "looms as a leadership voice that has been missing" (USA TODAY, 8/15). NBCSN's Chris Simms said he thinks Jay-Z's "heart is in the right place with this whole thing." Simms said the partnership with the NFL is "not only a business move but he's trying to shed some light and some knowledge on 32 white owners" ("PFT," NBCSN, 8/15).

DISINGENUOUS DEAL: In DC, Kevin Blackistone wrote Jay-Z "can't stand up for Kaepernick while tucking himself into bed with the NFL." It is "disingenuous" and "hypocritical." Blackistone: "What should have come of the deal Jay-Z announced with the NFL should have included Goodell standing up for Kaepernick." If Jay-Z is "who he has presented himself to be," more had "better come out of this partnership with the NFL than some more zeros in his bank account" (WASHINGTON POST, 8/15). PFT's Mike Florio said, "A lot of people are troubled by it and rightfully so because the extent the NFL is now aware of the message that Kaepernick was trying to send, you can't say you've gotten the message but still continue to kill the career of the messenger" ("PFT," NBCSN, 8/15). FS1's Jason Whitlock said the NFL is "trying to use Jay-Z because they know that we're headed towards a very volatile political year." Whitlock said this election cycle is "going to be bonkers and the NFL doesn't want to be swallowed up by it" ("Speak for Yourself," FS1, 8/14).

OWNERSHIP AMBITIONS? PRO FOOTBALL TALK's Florio wrote when Jay-Z "decided to launch a sports agency six years ago," a source explained his "ambition in simple terms: He wants to own a team." The NFL deal "nudges Jay-Z far closer to that goal, if that indeed is the objective." He now has a "formal relationship" with the NFL, and has a "chance to build up plenty of goodwill with owners." Florio: "Perhaps Jay-Z would start as a Jon Bon Jovi-style owner, serving as the face of the group while the person with the controlling share opts to stay in the shadows." There is "almost always a bigger play when a big deal like this is announced" (PROFOOTBALLTALK.com, 8/14).

St. Louis' MLS team would likely look to enter the league and open its new stadium in '22
Photo: HOK

MLS plans to announce next week that St. Louis has "secured an expansion team," with plans for an event in the city on Tuesday, according to sources cited in a front-page piece by Ben Frederickson of the ST. LOUIS POST-DISPATCH. After the St. Louis ownership group presented their bid to the league at the MLS All-Star Game last month, Commissioner Don Garber said the group's effort has been "amazing." The "MLS4TheLou" group is led by Enterprise Holdings Foundation President Carolyn Kindle Betz, World Wide Technology CEO Jim Kavanaugh and other members of Enterprise’s Taylor family. The group has plans for a "primarily privately funded downtown stadium and a majority female ownership group." In April, Garber said that the league was "entering 'exclusive, formal' discussions with St. Louis and Sacramento as it aimed to expand from 27 teams to 30." The St. Louis team is "targeting" '22 to start play. Final plans for "stadium financing, sponsorship deals and team details, such as team name and colors, have not been revealed" (ST. LOUIS POST-DISPATCH, 8/15). ESPN.com's Jeff Carlisle noted the stadium funding issue was a "critical hurdle to overcome." A '17 attempt to bring MLS to St. Louis "died when a referendum that would have" provided $60M in public money toward a venue was "rejected by voters" (ESPN.com, 8/14).

NOT FAR BEHIND? Representatives from the Sacramento investor group, which is also trying to secure an MLS team, said that "negotiations continue between the league" and USL club Sacramento Republic FC. Garber last month said that talks with the Penguins co-Owner Ron Burkle-led Sacramento group "had not yet led to a deal." However, he added that he "plans to visit Sacramento soon, and hopes that St. Louis and Sacramento could be on board to start league play" in '22 (SACRAMENTO BEE, 8/15).

GOLDEN OPPORTUNITY: Golden Knights President Kerry Bubolz said of team Owner Bill Foley's interest in bringing an MLS team to Las Vegas, "We're not exactly sure where we would stack up in terms of the pecking order itself." Appearing on the Las Vegas Review-Journal's "Golden Edge" podcast this week, Bubolz said he is "confident in our group and how we could impact that league." He added, "We're probably not going to spend a lot of time talking about [it] publicly because we want to lay the groundwork the right way. And then when we have our bid together, we'll sit with the folks at Major League Soccer and we'll talk about why we believe we'd be the right choice for an ownership group in Las Vegas and see where it takes us. We're in the mix. We know that and we're going to continue that effort" (LAS VEGAS REVIEW-JOURNAL, 8/15).

More boys ages of 6-12 in the U.S. (about 30%) participate in baseball than any other sport
Photo: LITTLE LEAGUE

The ’19 Little League World Series begins today amid another year in which baseball participation at the youth level showed growth, according to three independent sources that collect data on youth sports participation. MLB Exec VP/Baseball & Softball Development Tony Reagins said, “There are still kids playing the game, which is important.” The annual Topline Participation Report produced by the Sports & Fitness Industry Association indicates that 29.3% of all boys in the U.S., between the ages of 6-12, participate in baseball, which exceeds every other team sport. Meanwhile, baseball and softball combine to have the most amount of youth participants in the 6-12 age group, according to the Aspen Institute “State of Play” Trending and Development Report. Additionally, the ‘19 National Sporting Goods Association Sports Participation in the U.S. Report showed that baseball bucked the trend of overall flat youth sports participation (+0.3%) from ’17-18 with an increase of +2.0% in participation among youth, ages 7-17. On what baseball has done to achieve this growth, Reagins said, “We’ve done well connecting with fans at a younger age through YouTube, through Facebook, through Twitter. Doing those things -- I think we’ve done a lot better job than we’ve done in the past.”

PLAY BALL: Baseball has seen a 21% growth in both casual and core participation in the sport since ‘15, which more than quadruples the growth percentage of the second closest sport (basketball at +4%) and reflects four consecutive years of growth, according to the Topline Report. In that same timeframe, casual participation in baseball has risen 52.8%, in direct correlation to the launch of MLB’s Play Ball initiative. With the program, MLB has gone into communities that it has not traditionally gone into before. “We’re just creating an opportunity to play baseball and softball, and not just traditionally. So, not with 18 players and an umpire. It’s about going out and having fun playing the game, whether that be just playing catch or homerun derby or pickle -- it’s just playing baseball organically and being connected to the sport,” said Reagins. Play Ball also provides digital resources to both parents and coaches. An interactive map online aids parents who can plug in their zip code and see leagues that exist near them. There is also the mobile coaching app, where coaches can find lesson plans and identify the best ways to teach.

CALLING OUT: To address youth sports participation rates in the U.S., ESPN earlier this month launched its “Don’t Retire, Kid” campaign in partnership with MLB and the Aspen Institute’s Project Play. The campaign aims to point out parents and other adults who levy pressure and intensity on children’s shoulders, forcing them to burn out and lose interest. Reagins said that the role of parents in youth sports should be simple. “Education. I think that’s extremely important. Health and safety is No. 2. And just being a good parent and a good supporter. A lot of times, what we’ve seen is that parents can sometimes live vicariously through the player. I think what’s really important is that we allow our young people to be young people. And let them have fun playing the game,” he said. Reagins added, “Parents need to be parents and kids need to be kids.”

The NFLPA has "issued a 'work stoppage guide' to its players to help them prepare in case of a strike or lockout" following the '20 season as CBA negotiations between the NFL and the union "continue to make little progress," according to Dan Graziano of ESPN.com. Much of the guide is "focused on helping players manage their money." The specific suggestions from the NFLPA include:

  • Save at least half of each paycheck
  • Try cooking at home instead of eating out as much
  • Designate one day a week as "no spending day"
  • Take care of major home repairs now
  • Find renters for your unoccupied homes or bedrooms
  • Consider selling clothes you have not worn in a year on Poshmark, Thredup or Tradesy

Other parts of the guide "address specifics of what the rules might be during a work stoppage, in terms of access of team facilities (none), whether the league would conduct a draft (it did in 2011 while players were locked out) and whether players would still be subject to drug testing during a work stoppage" (ESPN.com, 8/15).