The U.S. Soccer Annual General Meeting provided expected drama at some points, unexpected non-drama at others, and unexpected drama at others.

I’ll get to the bit about the guy who called out the women’s national team for its sportsmanship.

Going bit by bit …

The Powers That Be may once again find themselves at war with the state reps.

U.S. Soccer’s National Council includes representatives from every state youth association (Youth Council), every state adult soccer association (Adult Council) and every pro league (Pro Council, dominated by MLS). Each group gets an equal share of the votes, a little more than 25% per Council. The Athletes Council, most consisting of those who played for a national team less than 10 years ago, is required by law to have 20% of the vote. The rest go to an assortment of associate organizations, individual board members, past presidents and Life Members (that’ll come up later).

Any organization can make a proposal to change the bylaws or policy manual. This year, the Metropolitan DC-Virginia Soccer Association (adult) had a policy proposal to slash registration fees across the board, except for pro leagues. Organizations would pay $5,000 rather than $10,000. Youth players’ fees would be 10 cents, down from $1. Adult fees would get a similar cut, from $2 to 20 cents. The goal was to erase barriers to participation for low-income families.

To get through all this, let’s go to the video …

At 38:45, when they’re about to vote to approve the budget, the MDCVSA rep stands up to get clarification on the procedure of the day. Can we approve the budget now, he asks, but then discuss the policy proposal later and, if it passes, get the staff to go back and adjust the budget? The answer is yes.

Fast forward to 53:15 for the big showdown between the MDCVSA rep and parliamentarian Michael Malamut, who says the board has decided not to recommend the dues changes, and that means the policy proposal is out of order.

Block out 10-15 minutes to watch what happens next. The MDCVSA rep was prepared, leading to a discussion of Roberts Rules of Order and such. Malamut, who’s been doing this forever, also knew his stuff.

No one raised his voice, though there was some interrupting. It was certainly tense. Under pressure, Malamut said the chair of the meeting has a decision to make, effectively punting to president Carlos Cordeiro to weigh in.

Eventually, Bylaw 212 is cited, supposedly to demonstrate that membership fees are recommended by the board and approved by the National Council by a majority vote. I don’t see that in the 2019-20 bylaws, but let’s assume for a minute that it’s correct. Does that means the only opportunity the National Council (again, all the members) had to question the membership fees was when the budget was discussed thirty minutes earlier? Or not at all?

Cordeiro agreed with Malamut but offered the olive branch of a task force. It may not be much, but it’s something.

I’ll get to the bit about the guy who called out the women’s national team for its sportsmanship.

The next policy proposal, essentially to require more detail in board and committee minutes, also caused some consternation between the representative (from Cal North), Malamut and Cordeiro. The Cal North man offered some concessions to exempt certain committees, at least for this year. That wore down the resistance, and the proposal was approved by a wide margin, to my surprise.

Earlier, West Virginia withdrew its proposal to require equal representation between men’s and women’s leagues in the same tier (in other words, MLS and NWSL). The Rules Committee had said it should be a bylaw rather than a policy. West Virginia’s Dave Laraba, who could probably be elected USSF president and Santa Claus in the same year if it was up to the states, said he respectfully disagree with the Rules Committee but would work toward re-submitting next year.

“We do urge the Pro Council to deal with this issue on their own, which they have the power to do,” Laraba said.

The weirdest state-related thing: Illinois’ adult association, which drew attention two years ago as one of Eric Wynalda’s most outspoken supporters in the presidential race, didn’t even speak on behalf of its proposals on Pro League Standards (punted because the Federation is being sued on that matter — feel free to contact the NASL about dropping that suit so the Fed can actually discuss this) and procurement (voted down rather heavily, in part because it was incomprehensible).

I’ll get to the bit about the guy who called out the women’s national team for its sportsmanship.

Cindy Cone was re-elected as vice president. This was contested but not contentious.

One year after being unanimously elected to fill the VP slot left empty when previous VP Carlos Cordeiro was elected president, the Hall of Famer won convincingly but far from unanimously over John Motta.

Worth remembering: The Athletes Council surely gave its 20% to Cone. The Pro Council probably gave all or most of its vote to her as well. Motta is the U.S. Adult Soccer Association president, so the Adult Council’s 25% and change surely went mostly to him. So the Youth Council and miscellaneous votes probably leaned toward Cone.

In any case, the candidates were gracious. Motta’s still on the board, and he’s anything but vindictive.

I’ll get to the bit about the guy who called out the women’s national team for its sportsmanship.

The good news: Everyone loves the Federation’s Innovate to Grow grant program, which is funding several initiatives on women’s coaching education.

Paired with the newly announced Jill Ellis Scholarship Fund, which has more than $200,000 in donations so far, the Federation is clearly taking steps to address a long-standing problem.

And let’s be clear — if national team pay is tripled, programs like this will be in serious jeopardy. Do the math. If you end up with a choice between training 200 female coaches and helping national teamers upgrade their cars, which would you choose?

I’ll get to the bit about the guy who called out the women’s national team for its sportsmanship.

Some members don’t understand legal obligations. An Athletes Council proposal to put athletes on grievance panels was a no-brainer. Literally. The Federation can’t afford to think about it because legal trends point rather heavily toward giving sports governing bodies no choice in the matter.

And yet some people voted against it. In an era in which legal fees are taking a big bite out of the Federation’s image and bottom line, they were happy to invite more lawsuits. Just to spite the Athletes Council?

OK, fine. Here you go …

Someone took issue with the women’s national team’s celebrations in the World Cup.

The man in question is Stephen Flamhaft, who’s been around forever. He is NOT on the board or in any other position of power. He’s one guy. Some people applauded, and they must have been near the microphones, because people at the AGM said they were sparse and that there were boos as well. Then several speakers took issue with him.

This isn’t the first time Flamhaft has made waves from the National Council floor. In 2005, he made a speech that reads like a plea to let board officers work until they drop. (See my 1998-2009 piece again.) In 2016, he rose to denounce Chuck Blazer, which was more controversial than you might think. See my 2010-2017 piece, then this thread.

This time, his comments were ill-timed and ill-stated. There’s no need to dredge this up again.

But, just like last summer, the Twitter reaction was so far overboard that it can’t be reached with a life preserver.

A little perspective — and yes, I know I’m speaking from male cis hetero financially comfortable privilege here. I’m also speaking from experience. While I sometimes agree with the “OK Boomer” sentiment, a lot of you whipper-snappers are just ageist. (Besides, I’m Gen X. We were handed Nirvana (good band) and Reality Bites (horrible movie) as our cultural touchstones, and we’ve been ignored ever since while the Millennials and Boomers …

So anyway …


Earlier this week, I watched the ESPN 30 for 30 documentary I Hate Christian Laettner, about the legendary Duke player (legendary for college play; in the NBA, he was a one-time All-Star, and that’s about it) and the fact that hating him was, and to some extent still is, a national pastime.

Did he commit a violent crime? No. He’s … arrogant. Overexuberant. A fierce competitor.

And people hate him.

That’s not surprising. A lot of people hate arrogant athletes.

And male athletes get pissed off when opponents celebrate too much. In baseball, if you flip your bat or do a slow home run trot, you may get a fastball to the ribs. Or the benches may clear. All part of baseball’s unwritten rules, much like the code (which is clear as mud, to be honest) in hockey.

The typical men’s sports controversy lasts for 24 hours. It feeds a cycle of talk radio and TV, then dies.

The WNT’s celebrations against Thailand stayed in the news because the women kept making reference to it and because of the rampant and grossly unfair accusations that anyone who questions the WNT’s behavior is sexist and misogynist.

Period.

Of course, there are some knuckle-dragging idiots out there. Always are. If you ever click a trending topic on Twitter and sort by “latest” instead of “top,” you’ll think civilization is speeding toward collapse. (It might be, which is another reason the U.S. men will never win the World Cup. I don’t cover that one in the book.)

But the defensiveness is over the top. It was last summer, and it was yesterday, where a lot of the ridiculous arguments popped up again.

They’re jealous because the men don’t win anything.

The Gender War is far from productive, and it’s unfair to current MNT players who face a much more difficult gauntlet of competition along with entrenched historical and cultural factors (see my book) that the women have never had to face.

I’ll argue that this can be fixed, though, by borrowing from Australia’s “equal pay” (it’s not) solution. The prize money for World Cups and other tournaments would still need to be addressed, but other money is put in one pool and evenly split between the men and women. That way, the men and women don’t just have a patriotic and cultural incentive to cheer for each other. They have have a financial incentive as well.

The women could beat the men

No.

The result making the rounds last year was a scrimmage between FC Dallas’ U15 team and the WNT, which ended 5-2 to the little guys. A fact check argued that the result was “decontextualized” because it was a “structured practice.” Perhaps, but the reason the WNT was playing a U15 team — and not even the full national team, just one very good club U15 team — was because it would be a comparable level of athleticism. It’s actually a common practice. They scrimmage youth teams because they would gain nothing by trying to match up with full-grown men.

And there’s nothing wrong with that.

We don’t build up Mikaela Shiffrin at the expense of Bode Miller. We can celebrate Allyson Felix even though her best time (21.69) in her best event (200 meters) was beaten by more than 70 male runners in the 2016 Olympics. We don’t fret about how Elena Delle Donne would fare in the post against … I don’t know. I don’t follow the NBA that closely.

Athletes are human.

They’re not people to be put on pedestals. Some of them are decent people. Some are even great. Even they make the occasional questionable decision.

A bigger issue in women’s soccer is coaching. It’s appropriate that Ellis is the namesake of a scholarship fund because she is the only woman among the 49 U.S. coaches to earn the new-ish Pro license. The United Soccer Coaches convention is so overwhelmingly male it makes a Star Trek convention look like Lilith Fair.

(For the record, I loved Lilith Fair.)

No one benefits from BS. No one benefits from misplaced priorities.

We need more women to stay in the game and coach. We need better youth development for men and women.

That’s why I point out the short-sighted and divisive arguments men’s and women’s senior national team advocates make in the pay debates. That’s why I think we need to find a way to get men’s and women’s fans and advocates on the same page.

One Nation One Team, indeed.

So we’re taunting the men’s national team over the women’s national team’s success, even while the men speak up for better pay for women. We’re touting proposals to pay the national teams at the expense of programs that grow the game, the opposite of what other (better) federations do.

So is Flamhaft a bit of a dinosaur? Sure.

But at some point, we should quit bashing the low-hanging fruit and climb a little higher on the tree.

(OK, Gen Xer.)

4 thoughts on “AGM wrap: U.S. Soccer board obstructs and women’s soccer moves forward … but this one guy …

  1. Yup, me again.
    You are to be commended for trying to make sense of the AGM, the politics and history can hardly be explained in one blog..or many blogs. While you certainly show your biases, for the most part it was an accurate representation. I do take issue with the choices you give when proposing an either/or scenario. 200 female coaches or upgrading cars? Really? You know that’s a grossly unfair characterization.

    Of course I probably wouldn’t have read or commented if it wasn’t for the one little issue about the WNT controversy. I know I can’t articulate why this is such a big deal to women who comment in defense of the team in a reply, or maybe even a book, but I’ll give it a go.
    Even though the WNT has been by far the more successful, no matter how you measure it, of the 2 NT’s they have had to scrape and fight for everything that would put them on par with the MNT in terms of support, any type of support. They bear the brunt of the attack in the war between the sexes, and have done, since day one. 99.9% of negative comments about the team are grounded in that sexism. So, in this instance, when a team at the pinnacle of their sport celebrates their achievements by respecting their much lesser opponents by treating them as they would any better adversary, they are called out for it in a very negative way. Instead of recognizing what a gesture that is to their opponent and praising it, they are put down for not being humble enough, passive enough, deferential enough. Let’s just forget about the compassion shown after the game by the individual players to their opponent. It is the calling out, the constant calling out for not being (fill-in-the-blank) enough that is exhausting. It honestly has less to do with this instance, although this is a big public example, than it has to do with the constant questioning of every action being scrutinized. Women, and those who support them, will continue to defend these calling outs, do not be surprised. If people are tired of women coming to defend themselves, imaging how it feels to be on the other side.

    Sexism is so ingrained it almost feels like it’s in the DNA, but it isn’t and it can be moderated, at least, by calling it out. When you apply different standards to the sexes, that’s sexism. When you call one out because they don’t fit a pre-concieved notion of how that sex is supposed to behave, that’s sexism. So calling something sexist when it is will happen. There is a way to have a conversation about whether a team has been disrespectful to an opponent, but not when it’s based on a double-standard. Laetner as an example of people not liking arrogance is a stretch, at best.

    This was my attempt. If it falls short, I won’t be surprised. It’s hard to explain a lifetime of sexism. It’s even harder to live it.

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    1. First of all, thanks for commenting here. Much better forum than Twitter.

      You raise several good points, and I’m ruminating on the idea that the WNT and its most vocal … advocates? apologists? defenders? … are more prone to be defensive than, say, Christian Laettner, because they’re used to hearing from people who are flat-out malevolent and misogynist. I can see the argument, and perhaps I didn’t see it well enough because of male privilege.

      It’s a much better argument than “the men do it and no one says anything.” At best, that’s a faulty generalization. NFL celebrations are kind of elaborate, but because it’s a league of salary-capped parity, it’s rare to have a blowout in which someone’s celebrating the seventh touchdown of the game. In basketball (and college soccer, which has few limits on substitutions), coaches can put in all the reserves late in the game. In baseball and hockey, excessive celebrations are governed by a “code” that allows for violent reactions. In soccer, I do think that in the unlikely event the U.S. men beat someone 13-0, the celebrations would be scrutinized. And in most sports, talk radio and ESPN will spend the next news cycle talking about anything controversial.

      So the argument you’re making is more difficult to address, and it poses a dilemma. I think, and a lot of people would agree, that it was a *little* overboard — not ridiculously so — to celebrate Morgan’s fourth and fifth goals, along with Lloyd’s stoppage-time goal, so wildly. Is there any way to express that without setting off a backlash?

      Along those lines — is it possible to respond to factual issues and misleading info in women’s equal pay rhetoric without appearing sexist or unsympathetic? In a sense, it may be easier now that the most forceful statement on pay has come from the men!

      People will still accuse me of “punching down” and siding with management over labor. But as I said in the Soccer America piece, we’re not talking about athletes seeking their share of revenue they generate for billionaire owners. (Oddly enough, the MLS labor talks, which DO involve billionaire owners, apparently went smoothly.) And the math is clear — if the MNT and WNT were to get their pay tripled (which surely won’t happen — I’d have to imagine they’d settle for doubled, which still seems high to me), Federation programs would suffer. I asked the MNTPA — technically still using a gender-neutral name, as if they represent the women as well — if they had any comment on that. Of course they didn’t.

      As for women’s fans taunting the MNT — I suppose I can also see that as a reaction to ingrained sexism to some extent, but it’s still something we should be warning against. If that takes more statements from the MNT lauding the WNT’s accomplishments, so be it.

      And that’s all the more reason to borrow one thing from the Australia “equal” pay (not really) deal. Put all the revenue generated by national teams into one pot and split it 50-50, giving the MNT, the WNT and all fans a financial incentive to cheer for each other. If the WNT plays a Victory Tour, great for everyone. If the MNT sells out Soldier Field for a game against Mexico, great for everyone. You’d still have to deal with tournament bonuses — maybe pay the WNT 100% of their bonuses, which is basically the case now, and pay the MNT 50%?

      Thanks again for commenting here — curious to see any response to this.

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  2. If you’re looking for civility, I’m afraid Twitter is not at the top of the list.

    There is a way to have a conversation about WNT celebrations against Thailand and it starts with understanding the journey just to get to that game, for both teams. It’s based in respect for your opponent, not just in the way you celebrate, but in the way you treat them as opponents on the field. If the opponents were higher in the rankings or more of a natural rival, I think the celebrations would have been the same and shared by even more fans. This isn’t rec league or even the men’s side where where the stakes aren’t as high or the likelihood as evident. We can disagree, but the scrutiny has to be based on something other than the mere fact that they’re women.

    As to the pay portion of your reply…
    Saying that the conversation may be easier now because of a strong statement by the men sounds…sexist.

    The argument from the women was always valid, it didn’t need a self-serving statement from the men to make it more so. It is nice to get a show of support from the men, but let’s not give it more weight than it deserves considering how it also affects the MNT.

    I don’t have any easy answer to the “equal pay” dilemma, other than to say that the Federation can choose to negotiate terms with both MNT and WNT, set a standard base pay amount and bonuses based on performance. Leaving out the hardcore – women should get more- proponents, I think the Fed could sell that to fans and therefore players without too much adverse affect. The fact that the Fed is just now mentioning that other programs might suffer is like when the government proposes a budget and says they’re cutting spending that was never going to happen anyway. Other programs need funding, but cutting off 2 programs that generate a fair amount of revenue to get that funding sounds..crazy. I’m certain it’s more complicated than that, but does it really need to be?

    If things ever end up truly equal between men and women then I guess these conversations will stop and we’ll move on to more important things like when are we going to get another good looking kit…

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    1. A couple of quick clarifications:

      1. I said responding to the players (all of them) on pay may be easier now that we’d be arguing with the unpopular men rather than the popular women. I don’t think the MNT’s statement helps the WNT at all, really. Basically the opposite meaning of what you read into it — I could’ve been clearer.

      2. The Fed isn’t mentioning programs that can be cut. That’s all on me.

      I think we agree on the pay issue. The more I’ve looked into it, the more I think the “salary vs. no salary” problem can be resolved with the Australia-style solution of just putting money for each team in a big pot and splitting it as they see fit. The issues would be …

      A. The women typically play more games than the men, so they may earn less per game. I think that can be fixed by having an even base revenue split and tacking on equal game and win bonuses on top of that.

      B. The men typically have more than 50 players in a given year, while the women tend to have 30 at most, which means the vast majority of men would make less than the core women. I think that’s OK. The men make more from their clubs, anyway, and if they play fewer games, the pay should be lower.

      C. Those pesky tournament bonuses. That’s where Australia isn’t equal and Norway is much, much worse. I don’t think the Fed can give the women the same bonus for winning the 2019 World Cup than the men would’ve received if pigs had flown and they had won the 2018 World Cup. That would be an eight-figure loss for the Fed in one tournament. They could keep giving the women 100% of their prize money, maybe even 120% if a sponsor kicks in, but to make those bonuses equal to the dollar, the men’s bonuses would need to be slashed like the prices at a carpet store going out of business. So they’ll still need to figure out what’s fair on that front.

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