NEW YORK – As November turns into December, U.S. national team defender and co-captain Becky Sauerbrunn has more on her mind than end-of-year festivities. Not with the U.S. women’s players in the middle of an equal pay dispute with their employers at the U.S. Soccer Federation. Not with the players’ filing with the Equal Employment Opportunity Commission (EEOC) still under review. And not with the players’ collective bargaining agreement with U.S. Soccer expiring at the end of the month.
The U.S. womens’ fight for equal pay has been going on for some time, and with things set to come to a head, Sauerbrunn told SI.com on Thursday at the opening of Adidas’s new Manhattan store that there is still much work to be done.
“We’re far apart,” she said of the state of CBA negotiations. “But I think we can get to an agreement that both sides can feel good about.”
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The USWNT reacts after losing to Sweden in the quarterfinals of the Rio 2016 Summer Olympic Games at Estadio Nacional Mane Garrincha. (Photo by Christopher Hanewinckel/USA Today Sports)
Sauerbrunn said the two sides are set to meet in New York City in a series of sessions starting in mid-December. Along with Sauerbrunn will be at least one other senior member of the team, along with U.S. Soccer president Sunil Gulati, other U.S. soccer staff, and lawyers from both sides. The two groups will have until December 31 to hammer out a new deal. And if that doesn’t happen?
“The team will vote on it,” Sauerbrunn said. “It could be anything from operating under a memorandum of understanding until a new deal comes up, or if we have to go on strike, that’s a conversation that we’re going to have to have. Or, who knows, maybe U.S. Soccer could lock us out! You never really know what’s going to happen, so we’re preparing for all those different realities.”
As for the EEOC filing, Sauerbrunn said that the investigation is ongoing and can take anywhere from six months to a year, though she suspects that the organization may be fast-tracking this one given that it is such a high-profile case.
That profile was raised even farther in recent weeks, with the broadcast of a 60 Minutes segment on the subject. Sauerbrunn said that came about indirectly—the players’ general counsel ran into 60 Minutes reporter Norah O’Donnell at an event, told her about the negotiations, and O’Donnell and her producers agreed to pursue the story.
“The support has been wonderful,” Sauerbrunn said of the reaction to the segment.
Sunil Gulati, the president of the U.S. Soccer Federation, poses for a picture with Carli Lloyd after she won the Golden Ball trophy at the 2015 FIFA Women’s World Cup Canada in Vancouver, Canada. (Photo by Rich Lam/Getty Images)
Turning to on-filed matters, Sauerbrunn simultaneously seemed relieved to talk about the game itself, while still remaining disappointed in a year that saw the Americans fail to capture Olympic gold after a quarterfinal loss on penalties to Sweden. Where does the Olympic failure rank on Sauerbrunn’s list of, as she puts it, “The worst things ever?”
“Pretty high up there,” she said. “We didn’t technically lose a match in 2016, but it sure as heck feels like we lost a big one. From the high of the World Cup to the low of the Olympics…that’s a big, big difference. I can’t think of anything else on the soccer field that compares to that.
“For the team, though, it’s just part of the narrative. There are ups and downs, and this team has always gotten better because of the downs.”