Inside the NWSL Players Association’s pragmatic approach to progress, unionization
With Sky Blue FC under renewed scrutiny following Sam Kerr’s post-game comments a few weeks ago, discussion about off-field standards in the National Women’s Soccer League is again in full swing. Despite the fact that we’re only now talking about the situation at Sky Blue, however, it isn’t new, and it’s telling that it’s only in the headlines again because a player spoke up about it.
As the league continues to grow and evolve, it has to be players — who know the on-the-ground realities of life in the NWSL and have to live with those realities — who continue to drive these conversations and push for change. Oone mechanism for players to do that is the NWSL Players Association.
The Players Association, which officially formed in May 2017, is in part the first step towards a union, which would have the legal right to bargain with the league on the players’ behalf. All non-allocated players in the league would be eligible for membership in that union (American allocated players are already part of the USWNT Players Association, and Canadian national team members formed their own association in 2016). Until they become a union, NWSL players essentially don’t have any actual legal backing, although the league has chosen to recognize and work with them.
Because progress toward the eventual goal of unionization has been gradual by design (more on that in a moment), what fans may not realize is that there has been talk about forming a players association since the first years of the league’s existence.
“It’s always been a talk, since [the NWSL] started, that we needed to have an organization as players,” says Yael Averbuch, the president of the NWSL Players Association and the driving force behind its formation. “Our U.S. national team players have very strong representation, so as non-allocated players, we always felt it was important that we have a voice and have that representation.”
Other members of the Players Association executive board echo Averbuch. “It was kind of in the works for as long as I’ve been in the league, at least,” says Emily Menges, who was drafted in 2014 and serves as treasurer and as a team representative for the Portland Thorns. “It was very informal, but we had player reps. We knew we had to do something, so it was very much the beginning of where we’re trying to go now.”
From the beginning, representation and communication with the league have been the primary goals. Players in the NWSL, many of whom, at least early on, had been through the collapse of WPS, have never had any naivety about where the league stands financially. “Our league is purposefully scaled down from previous leagues because it’s aimed at sustainability and success,” says Averbuch. “We want to be cognizant of that in our approach and not demand the league to make changes or expand in certain ways that would be unhealthy to the overall success of the league.” …
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