New US Soccer CEO Will Wilson joined slightly-less-new president Cindy Parlow Cone on a conference call today to introduce Wilson to the media and take questions. A large number of those questions were about the USWNT equal pay lawsuit; understandable given that before Wilson’s hiring, the biggest news event at USSF was the resignation of Carlos Cordeiro in the wake of legal filings from the federation’s counsel using unacceptably misogynist language.
“This is not a role I was seeking,” Parlow Cone said as part of her introductory statement, “But sometimes we are asked to step forward to do unexpected things.”
Wilson and Parlow Cone handled a variety of questions on the future of the federation, including the impact of COVID-19 and the postponement of the 2020 Olympics. On that front, the future seems murky, with Parlow Cone acknowledging that their business will certainly be affected, just as all businesses are at this time, and that she expects the federation “will take a significant hit” without the ability to put on events. But at least knowing for certain that the Olympics have been postponed to 2021 has given them a somewhat better understanding of what they need to do as they run through different scenarios - and according to her, that postponement lines up with the desires of the players and coaches with whom she’s been in contact.
But the lawsuit was clearly at the forefront of the questioning, with both Parlow Cone and Wilson calling its resolution a top priority. “I don’t think a trial is good for either party or for soccer both in this country or internationally,” said Parlow Cone. “I’m hopeful that we can find a resolution before this goes to trial.”
Both Parlow Cone and Wilson disavowed the language used in the filing, which called into question the WNT’s skills and level of responsibility compared to the men. Parlow Cone in particular gave a very strong statement that built on her previous disavowal on twitter. “Settling this dispute is only the first step,” she said. “The next step is a long process. I think a lot of damage has been done and I think we are going to have to rebuild that trust and rebuild the relationship and it’s not going to happen overnight. It’s going to take a lot of effort and time and energy from the US Soccer side to rebuild that trust not only with our US women’s national team players but whit our fans and with everyone engaged in the sport. I think the comments and the language in the last filing not only hurt our relationship with our women’s national team, but hurt women and girls in general, and as a former national team player, they were personally hurtful to me.”
“The wording of the comments in the filing were quite frankly shocking and very, very disappointing to me when I read them,” said Wilson. “Absolutely my commitment will be to find solutions - to engage at every level.”
Parlow Cone said that she hopes to talk to the team in the coming weeks, although things are challenging right now given the backdrop of COVID-19. “I’m a big believer in getting people in the same room and finding resolution, so in the meantime we may have to settle with jumping on phone calls,” she said.
Parlow Cone revealed that, under former president Carlos Cordeiro, the federation had formed a special litigation committee to oversee the filings in the lawsuit. This committee was comprised of Parlow Cone, Vice Chair of the US Youth Soccer Association Tim Turney, and independent director Patti Hart. Notably, USSF’s chief legal officer, Lydia Wahlke, was not named as part of this committee, and in fact, as per a report by Jeff Carlisle, has been put on administrative leave.
Despite the presence of a special committee, Parlow Cone stated several times that no one on said committee saw the language in question before it was filed. “There was a fundamental error in our processes so that the special litigation committee didn’t see it and neither did the other board members,” said Parlow Cone. “We have hired an outside firm to do a review of our processes to see where that process broke down, because I never saw the filing before it went public.”
But for many fans, it seems to stretch credulity that, given the federation’s robust rebuttal of the USWNT’s legal arguments at every turn, that this latest escalation in their arguments could have come as a total surprise to anyone involved with its oversight, or that the experienced (and expensive) lawyers of international law firm Seyfarth Shaw would have been unable to provide a short summary of their arguments for review before each filing. Parlow Cone is entirely right that the federation has severed any trust its employees might have in it, and if they hope to find a resolution before trial, it will require enormously open communication from the federation and the willingness of the players to risk believing federation leadership is coming to them in good faith.