What had long been rumored was finally confirmed this past August. The years of hard work by MLS4TheLou had finally paid off. St. Louis really would be awarded a Major League Soccer expansion team. The local ownership group would be led and controlled by women. Home games would be played in a stadium to be built just south of The Schlafly Tap Room.
The proximity to The Tap Room was fitting, given that we had recently announced that Fran Caradonna had been named CEO of the brewery; and Emily Parker-Lampe had been named chief of brewery operations. That’s right. A soccer team owned and run by women would be playing across the street from the headquarters of the largest American-owned brewery in Missouri…where the two top leadership positions were held by women.
Elsewhere in the world the news about women and sports has not been so good. In Iran a woman named Sahar Khodayari wanted to watch her favorite soccer team, Esteghlal. Because women, like beer, weren’t allowed inside the stadium, she disguised herself as a man. She was apprehended and charged with “damaging public chastity and insulting a judiciary officer.” Fearful of what would happen to her in an Iranian prison, Sahar set herself on fire and died in a hospital after suffering severe burns on 90% of her body.
Back in the United States the New England Patriots, an NFL team owned by Robert Kraft, recently signed a wide receiver named Antonio Brown, who had been shunned by most other NFL teams. Alert readers (ARs) will recall that earlier this year Kraft was arrested in Florida and charged with soliciting an act of prostitution and accused of aiding and abetting human trafficking. Some ARs may not be surprised that the Patriots, among 32 teams in the NFL, would be interested in Brown, who has been accused of rape in a lawsuit filed in a court in South Florida by a woman named Britney Taylor.
While the travails of Sahar Khodayari and Britney Taylor are unquestionably those of women, the case of Caster Semenya is a little less clear. As ARs who follow track and field will recall, Caster is a middle distance runner and Olympic gold medalist from South Africa. On April 16, 2016 she became the first person to win all three of the 400 meter, 800 meter and 1500 meter titles at the South African National Championships, setting world records in all three events. A few months later she won the gold medal in the women’s 800 meter race at the Olympic Games in Rio de Janeiro.
Two years later, in April of 2018, the International Association of Athletics Federations (IAAF) promulgated rules that seemed specifically designed to prevent Caster from competing as a woman. In order to run in the women’s 400 meter, 800 meter or 1500 meter races, athletes needed to have testosterone levels below a certain level, which, in her case, could only be achieved by taking drugs to lower her naturally occurring level of the hormone. For some reason the new rules only applied to competitors in the events in which Caster excelled. If she or any other athlete with her level of testosterone wanted to compete at distances shorter than 400 meters or longer than 1500 meters there would presumably be no problem.
In the case of women’s soccer the controversy is not whether the players on the team are really women or whether the women have levels of testosterone that are impermissibly high. Rather, the dispute is whether members of the United States Women’s National Team (USWNT), which has now won two consecutive World Cups, are underpaid in comparison with their male counterparts, who have never won a World Cup. Four months before winning their most recent World Cup, players on USNWT had filed a lawsuit against the United States Soccer Federation (USSF) alleging that they were paid less than men for doing essentially the same job and that this disparate treatment constituted unlawful discrimination. The USSF denied the allegations and issued statement saying that it paid USWNT more than it paid the men’s national team.
Both sides in this dispute are ably represented by lawyers whose expertise in this area of the law far exceeds my own. (I admit that this is a pretty low bar.) That said, I would only make two points. First, even if the men who control USSF do in fact pay women unfairly, I’m sure the women who control the MLS franchise in St. Louis will pay the men who play for the team fairly. Second, unlike the state of soccer in Iran, I’m positive that women and beer will be welcome in the stadium in St. Louis.
Chairman – The Saint Louis Brewery