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Saturday Sports: U.S. Soccer Federation, Women's Team File Agreement

SCOTT SIMON, HOST:

And now it's time for sports.

(SOUNDBITE OF MUSIC)

SIMON: And we go to that hallowed field of play where unstoppable forces meet immovable objects, the cries of the victorious and the vanquished ring over the field - yes, the U.S. District Court for the Central District of California. Well, what were you expecting? NPR sports correspondent Tom Goldman joins us. Good morning, Tom.

TOM GOLDMAN, BYLINE: Hello (laughter).

SIMON: I like that. The Central District of California is where the U.S. Soccer Federation, U.S. Women's player filed an agreement this week in their dispute over gender equity in workplace conditions. But there's still a battle over pay equity. Can they work it out without going back to court?

GOLDMAN: Well, Scott, U.S. soccer would prefer that. It said this week it liked the way the two sides worked together and reached a settlement on the women's workplace grievances about travel and staffing and hotels. The U.S. women agree that talking is good. But they're also taking a hard line on what they believe they are owed. Now, equal pay - the equal pay issue is complex, lots of factors, including the U.S. men and the U.S. women negotiated different pay structures, which clouds things when you talk about equal compensation.

There's also a huge difference in what FIFA, soccer's international governing body, pays the men and women's World Cup champions. Women get more than $30 million less. That's something FIFA definitely has to correct. And U.S. soccer says it wants to work with the U.S. women to push FIFA. But in the meantime, the two sides are at odds over how much U.S. soccer should be paying the women. So a negotiated settlement would be preferable to spending millions more on lawyers in court. But that may be impossible to avoid.

SIMON: And U.S. soccer says they'd be tapped out if they had to pay that amount, I guess.

GOLDMAN: They do. They say they're a national governing body, a nonprofit. You know, they don't have a bottomless pit, bottomless reserves of cash.

SIMON: (Laughter).

GOLDMAN: They do say that, yeah.

SIMON: Let's move to the NFL. So many NFL quarterbacks...

GOLDMAN: Yeah.

SIMON: ...Have been benched for positive COVID tests for themselves or a teammate. I mean, the teams are enlisting wide receivers who haven't played quarterback since high school. I even got a text message from the Chicago Bears.

GOLDMAN: (Laughter) Wow.

SIMON: Yeah, asked if I was interested. And I didn't even play in high school. Is this a season that winds up cheapening the sport?

GOLDMAN: Well, are you going to be playing?

SIMON: (Laughter) You've been saving that one.

GOLDMAN: Yeah, I have.

SIMON: No. No, no, no. I'm - I would, but I've got to do this show.

GOLDMAN: I actually, you know, see you barking out signals at Soldier Field and bringing a level of panache to the league, Scott, that we just haven't seen for a long time. So...

SIMON: Bringing a level of panache shortly before I'm knocked senseless. But go ahead, yeah.

GOLDMAN: (Laughter) OK. But, yes, the whole cheapening thing, you know, we have had a couple of games that weren't what they should've been - the aforementioned wide receiver who quarterbacked the Denver Broncos. You had, essentially, a Baltimore Ravens B-team play Pittsburgh this week in a game that was postponed three times. The NFL has been saying it won't postpone games for competitive reasons, meaning if a team doesn't have any quarterbacks available. If the rest of the team isn't at risk, the games will go on. And they have. And the NFL keeps upgrading health and safety protocols to keep the games going.

SIMON: Yeah, which is good. But can - I mean, when you have some of the biggest stars, particularly at quarterback, unable to play, what does that do?

GOLDMAN: Well, I think it does. You know, it's interesting, sports writer Jane McManus put out a tweet in July that's been quoted at times during the pandemic. She said sports are the result of a functioning society. And critics say maybe...

SIMON: Yeah.

GOLDMAN: ...We shouldn't be playing all these sports until we're functioning, at least with COVID. The NFL and the other leagues don't agree with those critics.

SIMON: NBA is just a little more than a couple of weeks from rushing into the next season. Their bubbles worked so well just a few months ago. It's the first thing they get rid of for the new season?

GOLDMAN: Well, they let us know that life outside a bubble is going to be tougher. This week, as training camps open, the NBA released numbers on the first mass testing since the season just ended in October. Forty-eight players are positive out of 546 tested. Now, that's not necessarily a harbinger of doom but a reminder that out there with the rest of the country, not in a bubble, the NBA could struggle, especially as teams travel.

SIMON: Yeah. And - but why did they decide to change when the bubbles were so successful? I think I know the answer to that. But go ahead. We have a few seconds.

GOLDMAN: Well, it was successful. But it was a big task. And for the players who stayed to the end, the LA Lakers and Miami Heat, it was more than three months there. Bringing everyone back, 30 teams, for at least five months - that's tough. And players wouldn't like the isolation for that long. Plus, teams want to get their home arenas up and running. And they hope they get their fans back at some point in those arenas to make some money. The NBA lost a lot last season.

SIMON: NPR sports correspondent Tom Goldman, thanks so much for being with us.

GOLDMAN: You're welcome, Scott.

(SOUNDBITE OF THIEVERY CORPORATION SONG, "THE FOUNDATION") Transcript provided by NPR, Copyright NPR.