Major sponsors of US Soccer including Coke, Budweiser and Visa are condemning the organization and demanding meetings after the group's lawyers argued women players on the national team should not be paid the same as men because they are not as skilled and work less-demanding jobs.
"We are extremely disappointed with the unacceptable and offensive comments made by US Soccer," said a spokesperson for Coca-Cola to BuzzFeed News in a statement. "We have asked to meet with them immediately to express our concerns."
"The Coca-Cola Company is firm in its commitment to gender equality, fairness and women’s empowerment in the United States and around the world and we expect the same from our partners," the spokesperson added.
Deloitte, another major sponsor, told BuzzFeed News the company was "deeply offended by the views expressed by the USSF.”
"Our support for the team is unwavering," the spokesperson said.
By Wednesday night, with criticism continuing to mount from sponsors, US Soccer President Carlos Cordeiro said in a statement that the court filing "did not reflect the values" of his organization.
"On behalf of U.S. Soccer, I sincerely apologize for the offense and pain cause day language in this week's court filing, which did not reflect the values of our Federation or our tremendous admiration of our Women's National Team," he said. "Our WNT players are incredibly talented and work tireless, as they have demonstrated time and again from their Olympic Gold medals to their World Cup titles. Even as we continue to defend the Federation in court, we are making immediate changes."
Those changes will include bringing in an outside law firm to guide their legal strategy going forward.
"I have made it clear to our legal team that even as we debate facts and figures in the course of this case, we must do so with the utmost respect not only for our Women's National Team players but for all female athletes around the world," he said.
Earlier in the day, a Visa spokesperson told BuzzFeed News they planned to meet with US Soccer over the court filing. US Soccer's reported position, a statement said, "is one which we do not share. It is core to our philosophy at Visa that we accept everyone, everywhere. In fact, we believe the Federation should do more to ensure a level playing field for women."
A spokesperson for Volkswagen, the major presenting partner sponsor of US Soccer, declined to comment on the court filings, but said its goal was to "make soccer the preeminent sport in America by raising the game for all who participate," including the US Women's national team.
"We believe in equality, inclusion and access, for players, for coaches and for fans," the spokesperson said.
However, prior to passing the request for comment to his US colleagues, a senior Volkswagen spokesperson in Germany told BuzzFeed News, "I myself can hardly believe that these quotes were made or meant that way."
It comes after attorneys for US Soccer made a controversial argument in a court filing Monday as part of the lawsuit over equal pay brought by the US Women’s National Team.
"The job of a [men’s national team player] carries more responsibility within US Soccer than the job of a [women’s national team] player.”
US Soccer also pointed to biological differences and “indisputable science” to argue that women should be paid less because the men’s team “requires a higher level of skill” than the women’s team.
The US women, who won last year's World Cup, are asking for some $67 million in back pay for what they claim is US Soccer’s violation of the Equal Pay Act. A jury trial is expected in May.
Other US Soccer sponsors reiterated their support for the women's team in their equal pay suit, another potential sign of problems for US Soccer as the legal battle drags on.
A spokesperson for Allstate told BuzzFeed News that the company believes the women's team "deserve the respect and pay of world champions, which is more than equal pay.” Secret, which had previously donated money directly to the women's team to help "close the pay gap," told BuzzFeed News, “We believe that women are deserving of equal pay and equal opportunity and we’re supportive of all those who courageously fight for this."
Several other sponsors, including Johnson & Johnson and Anheuser-Busch, did not respond to requests for comment.
Nike — a major US Soccer sponsor who released an ad in the wake of the women's World Cup win celebrating the team for inspiring "a whole generation of boys and girls to talk and win and stand up for themselves" — did not respond to multiple requests for comment.