Yesterday, Hope Solo posted a blog post detailing grievances with NWSL over inadequate facilities for players.
The post came on the heels of Solo’s club team, the Seattle Reign, being forced to play an away game against the Western New York Flash on what they considered to be an inadequate field.
The field was indeed small at 58x100, just about within FIFA regulation but less than NWSL’s mandated 70-yard minimum width, which required the Flash to get a one-game exemption from the league.
There was also an issue with the Reign’s goalkeeper, Haley Kopmeyer, after she was injured and the Flash were allegedly slow to respond to her injury and remove her from the field. In audio from the post-game press conference, Harvey said the Flash refused to take Kopmeyer to the hospital.
A couple of days later, Solo made her post about player conditions. It’s clear from the pictures that Solo has been ruminating on this for a while, and perhaps the Flash game was the catalyst that made her put it all together. Perhaps this was always the schedule for Solo to discuss better player treatment as a subset of the WNT’s ongoing argument with US Soccer over wage inequality. Whatever the reason, the timing was extremely apropos.
Solo alleges a lot of particular instances of teams failing to better serve players: no per diems on the road for meals, fields with exposed dangerous elements, inadequate grounds crews, inadequate training fields, unsanitary showers, filthy hotels, dirty or badly used locker rooms, and no structure for making appeals to the league, among others.
These are all obviously things people can agree aren’t up to professional standards. But there are a few items that might merit some debate, like not receiving fitted uniforms or players living together. Having roommates is not a situation limited to just college athletes, nor is it really a hardship in the context of the other things Solo has listed. In markets like Boston or Chicago, the salary required to allow someone to live on their own is simply not feasible for at least the next several years, if not longer. And the uniforms - the league has a sponsorship deal with Nike, who have provided NWSL kits since year one. Perhaps the uniforms are basic in design and not cut to the standard they are for the national team, but having to tape a uniform in the back so that it fits a little better for picture day could probably be left off the list for now. Her point that men’s teams would get supplied with the highest grade of jersey as a matter of course is well-taken, but the point is perhaps obscured by the example.
Solo frames her arguments not for her sake, but for the non-NT players in the league who make the minimum of $7,200/year or in the same range. Considering national player salaries and any possible endorsement deals for bigger names, that’s definitely the right focus when arguing for increased standards, and it’s nice to see the big names in the game using their popularity to shed light on the players working with much less.
This all seems to be part of a tipping point in American women’s soccer. Players and fans - even some coaches and owners - have made noises for a while now about needing to make progress in the pro game, while also balancing some delicate financial needs and fighting against the ghost of failed leagues past. With NWSL solidly in year four and already planning for year five without hesitation, perhaps the league doesn’t quite need such kid-gloved handling anymore. Caution, yes. Prudential budgeting, yes. But Solo is essentially right in that if NWSL wants to call itself a professional league, then it needs to have consistent professional standards.