The U.S. Won the World Cup—Can We Take Women's Sports Seriously Now?

On Sunday night—surely you know by now—the United States Women’s National Team won the World Cup with a high-scoring 5–2 victory over Japan.

What has gotten just as much attention as the match itself—and rightfully so—is the pay disparity between men and women’s sports. The U.S. Women’s Team took home $2 million for their third World Cup victory. Last year, the German team won the Men’s World Cup and took home $35 million, while the U.S. men took home $8 million after being eliminated in the first round of the tournament. The total payout for women in 2015 was $15 million. For the men in 2014, it was $576 million.

Obviously, FIFA, world soccer’s governing body, has ethics in inverse proportion to its hundreds of millions of dollars in annual revenue—just imagine the NFL operating in multiple countries, with Bond villains at the helm. And FIFA President Sepp Blatter, who last month announced his resignation following corruption investigations, once suggested female players should wear “tighter shorts” to increase popularity (and incorrectly said that women play with a lighter ball). In 2014, a group of international players sued FIFA and the Canadian Soccer Association for gender discrimination after it was announced that the 2015 tournament would be played on artificial turf instead of real grass. Any moves toward making international soccer more equitable will clearly not be coming from inside FIFA.

But that of course does not mean criticism of FIFA should cease; nor does it mean we should ignore the very real inequality in U.S. sports. The National Women’s Soccer League’s minimum salary is $6,000, with salary caps for entire teams at only $200,000. In contrast, the MLS minimum is now $60,000. Writing in The Atlantic last month, Maggie Mertens made a compelling argument that support for women’s soccer, or lack thereof, is a feminist issue.

Sports command enormous cultural and capitalist importance, and when players are compensated one-tenth as much as others for the exact same work simply because of their gender, we cannot pretend sports are frivolous, or that they are anything less than a deeply unequal workplace. And if it weren’t for feminist achievements like Title IX, it is doubtful that the Americans would be as dominant on the world stage.

But lack of interest in women’s sports is still the reason given for lack of pay equity—and for lack of coverage. And what follows this excuse is a shrug of shoulders at what appears to be circular problem: If fans were more interested in women’s sports, there would be more coverage; if there were more coverage, fans would be more interested. But I don’t buy it.

Sure, the bars were less crowded in D.C. than they were last summer for the men’s World Cup. But I was heartened by the sight of so many men in U.S. jerseys at watch parties, and of male friends leaping from chairs to throw arms up after a goal. More than 25 million viewers tuned in on Sunday night—more than any soccer match (men or women) in U.S. history, and more than the recent NBA Finals. As Dave Zirin points out in The Nationpeople are watching women’s sports (when they can), and enjoying it. It is the broadcasters clinging to the sexist idea that no one does—or should—care about female athletes that has, as one 25-year study found, kept attention to women’s sports averaging around just 5 percent of total coverage. Just as it is the fault of FIFA and women’s leagues all over the world that don’t pay their players fairly, it is also the fault of sports journalists and publications that choose to ignore those athletes, or, as that same study notes, offer coverage with a distinct lack of excitement. Not everything has to have the same intensity as Andrés Cantor’s “Gol!” calls, but just imagine if women's sports got half the production value of the NBA draft.

Of course, there is one point that I haven’t yet addressed, and that is that the style of play is very different between men and women’s soccer. On this, I will concede.


Scalia's Temporary Retreat from Textualism

In a 1996 essay, Antonin Scalia declared war on judicial activism. He criticized justices for ruling according to their personal predilections and blasted the American legal system for being populated by “lawmaking” judges who usurp the democratic process by using whatever means necessary to bring the case to a desired resolution.

As a result, Scalia proposed that judges adhere to a form of statutory interpretation called textualism, in which they examine only the text of the law in question when issuing decisions. While this means judges should avoid outside sources of information (like the legislation’s history), Scalia insisted that they should still read an act “to contain all that it fairly means” and avoid adhering rigidly to individual clauses, particularly if doing so would produce absurd results.

The Court’s ruling in King vBurwell, which held that four obscure words in the Affordable Care Act did not bar the federal government from providing subsidies to citizens who purchased insurance on federally run exchanges, thus ought to be a truly sweet moment for Scalia. The case was created, contested, and decided on largely textual grounds, and the majority opinion, written by Chief Justice John Roberts, was “perfectly consistent with textualism,” says Nicholas Bagley, an assistant professor of law at the University of Michigan and the co-author of an amicus curiae brief in King.

But Scalia, who is on record as believing the entire act to be unconstitutional, wrote a blistering dissent that called the Court’s majority decision an example of judges using “interpretive distortions … to correct a supposed flaw in the statutory machinery.”

“Our only evidence of what Congress meant comes from the terms of the law, and those terms show beyond all question that tax credits are available only on state exchanges,” Scalia wrote. But as Bagley points out, such a position is inconsistent with Scalia’s stated emphasis on avoiding ironclad literalism.

“The [majority] opinion does not rest on legislative history or what was on Congress’s mind,” Bagley says. “The opinion rests on the text’s statute.”

Indeed, in his opinion, Roberts cited previous instances where Scalia stressed the importance of textualism. In United Savings Association of Texas vTimbers of Inwood Forest Associates, Scalia wrote that “a provision that may seem ambiguous in isolation is often clarified by the remainder of the statutory scheme” and in Utility Air Regulatory Group vEPA, Scalia wrote “that the words of a statute must be read in their context and with a view to their place in the overall statutory scheme.”

Even in the 2012 ACA case, Scalia seemed to have no trouble discerning that federally provided subsidies were essential to the act’s machinery, writing that without them, “the exchanges would not operate as Congress intended and may not operate at all.”

But it is apparent that three years later, when such a holistic reading of the act would mean its survival, Scalia suddenly saw things a little differently. 

Will Students Soon Be Tested for 'Grit'?

The National Assessment of Education Progress (NAEP)—nicknamed “the Nation’s Report Card”—is the largest nationally representative assessment that tests what American students know and can do in different subjects.

Curiously, it was recently announced that beginning in 2017, NAEP plans to start measuring so-called “non-cognitive skills” like motivation and grit in the background surveys they issue to all test-takers. Additionally, according to Education Week, questions about “self-efficacy and personal achievement goals may be included on questionnaires for specific subjects to create content-area measures.”

Though schools won’t be judged based on these NAEP measures, the article says, “other such tests for accountability purposes may be on the horizon.” A coalition of seven districts in California are reportedly developing an accountability system that will evaluate schools in part by including measures of “growth mindset, self efficacy and self-management, and social awareness.” These are supposed to be in place next year.

The odd thing about this NAEP announcement is that very recently psychologists Angela Duckworth and David Scott Yeager published a paper in the journal Educational Researcher arguing that while emerging findings on character skills are promising, existing research is not ready to be incorporated into accountability assessments. Angela Duckworth told NPR that she feels “enthusiasm” for these measures “is getting ahead of the science” and that wanting to use these skills for evaluation would be gravely premature.

In April I published a long piece on the rise of grit fervor in education reform, which looked at the ways in which current tools to measure grit and other character traits are flawed. There are significant limitations to self-reported assessments, and Duckworth and Yeager’s subsequent journal paper echoed these concerns. Researchers haven’t given up on developing improved measures, and they are currently exploring future possibilities like computer simulations.

The intellectual humility Duckworth and Yeager demonstrated in their paper (and this video) is quite impressive, and should not be understated. Why school districts and NAEP are still intent on moving forward quickly with measuring these skills then deserves some further clarification.

From Our Friends at the Atlantic

If you haven't seen it already, James Fallows, one of our favorite writers (and long-time Prospect contributor), has a very nice write-up of our new issue over at The Atlantic. "Congrats to the Prospect for publishing material like this for a quarter-century, and may it continue," he writes. We'll do our best!