If you haven’t heard, the US Women’s Soccer team has scored its 4th World Cup title recently and their massive win has sparked a national debate on equal pay. Even though President Kennedy signed the Equal Pay Act into law back in 1963, several resources can show that there is still a disparity of pay amongst genders with women only earning 79 cents for each dollar3. This gap only widens when you take into consideration women of color and/or immigrant status.
When it comes to sports, the gender wage gap is all too stark. Some of the biggest gaps can be seen in basketball and soccer. When you compare the average contract values of women in the WNBA, they range from $50k-100k while their respective male counterparts have contracts ranging from $1-5 million1. An argument for keeping the values as they are is that WNBA simply doesn’t have the fan base as the NBA; sure, that’s one piece of the puzzle, but when you look at the fact that the maximum WNBA salary is $111,500 and the minimum NBA contract is $525,0932, that is $400k that women aren’t even eligible for simply because of their gender, regardless of their skills or performance.
Soccer has a slightly smaller pay gap, but the question of “worth” is more muddled as the Women’s team has won more championships and been overall more successful than the Men’s team4. For each World Cup Championship, the Men’s team receives $50k AND a $75/day allowance while the women only receive $15k and $60/day. Due to their success and lack of compensation—“with the women’s team generating nearly $20 million more revenue last year than the U.S. men’s team, the women are paid about a quarter of what the men earn”5—the USWNT has filed a lawsuit against FIFA in an effort to start getting paid more fairly.
Tennis seems to be the most equitable, at least when it comes to the Grand Slam. Prize money for the US Open and Wimbledon is the same for both men and women as of 2007 thanks to Serena Williams6, but the difference comes in for regular wages where women make only 80 cents to every dollar their male counterparts make1. This accounts for a difference of $120,624 per year.
The discussion for equal pay in sports is a conversation that needs to be had as it shows how much importance/value we place on our athletes. As it currently stands, we are telling our female athletes that it doesn’t matter how good they are—they will never be worth equal or more to their male competitor, whether that is because their sport isn’t as “entertaining” to watch, they aren’t strong enough, they aren’t marketable or profitable enough, or simply because of the genitalia between their legs/the hormones that course through their blood.
Little girls and others look up to female athletes such as Serena Williams, Megan Rapinoe, Sue Bird, etc. and see how strong, elegant, fierce and skilled they are. They see them pursuing their dreams and want to know they can follow in their footsteps. What do we tell them when they ask “if they’re so good, why do those who do worse get paid more simply because they’re men?” We are inherently creating an environment where with our actions, we are telling women they aren’t worth it and that they aren’t worth the support, the fan base, or the money. Paying all of our players a fair and equal amount will even out the playing field and, in effect, will cause us to “put our money where our mouth is.”