The Gender Pay Gap in the Sports World

“Women earn less in America because they choose to.” – Fox News contributor, Gavin McInnes

(Just for the record, I felt like I needed to take a shower after typing that out.)

Last year, the average salary for a NBA player in the league was a little over 5 million dollars. In comparison to NFL players, the league of America’s presumed favorite sport, NBA players continue to receive more than their fair share in paychecks. The average NFL player made just over 2 million dollars last season. And this is just the discrepancy between two male leagues. When comparing the average salary of NBA players to the average salary of WNBA players, we might as well compare Warren Buffet’s salary to that of a cashier at McDonald’s.

The average salary for a player in the WNBA is less than $75,000 per year, with the bottom of the barrel getting a minimum salary contract of less than $40,000. To put it in perspective, the average NBA player makes almost seventy times the amount of the average WNBA player. To put it into even greater perspective, the average NBA player gets paid roughly the same amount for a single game played as the average WNBA player gets paid for her entire season. I’ll let that just sink in for a moment before moving on to the details.

Diana Taurasi, one of the best players in the league who just led the U.S. Women’s team to gold in Rio this past month, only got paid $49,000 in 2010. This amazing woman went to the University of Connecticut (the best school for women’s basketball), is ranked second in the WNBA’s history when it comes to points per game, and has won the finals MVP trophy twice in her short career. If I tried to tell someone that Dwayne Wade had only gotten paid that much in 2010, I’d be called an idiot. I’d be told that that’s impossible. And yet, Taurasi is pretty much on the same level in her league, arguably even better, than Wade in his league. It’s been six years and her salary has actually been bumped up… to a little over $100,000.

Diana Taurasi also plays oversee in Russia. Her salary there? Apparently in 2014, it was at roughly 1.5 million dollars. She makes fifteen times more playing basketball in a country that treats women the way America treated women in the year of 1952 than she does in the States. Taurasi isn’t naïve about any of this either. In 2015, she decided enough was enough. The team in Russia asked her not to play for a season in the WNBA in order to focus her time and efforts on the game in Europe, so she did. I don’t blame her for it, not one bit.

The argument always appears to be that women don’t bring in the fans; therefore they don’t receive as large of a salary in return. Most of the time, this is said by an obnoxious white male in the comments section of any ESPN article that goes into detail about women playing sports. They aren’t alone though. Every single sports writer under the U.S. of A’s sun will tell you that no one is interested in women playing basketball. Some say it’s the men’s fault, some say it’s because women don’t want to watch women be athletic. I read an article in Sports Illustrated essentially stating that no one ever cared about women’s basketball and no one ever will. I swear that if I read one more article about how all women basketball players do is go for lay-ups, I’m going to lose my cool. Everyone just wants women’s basketball to fail, or at the very least, wants to blame someone else for why it’s failing.

Here’s the thing: ESPN’s Sports Center is on in my household every single morning. It’s what we have on in the background while we get ready for the work day. This has been happening for well over a year now, and I cannot remember one instance of the WNBA being highlighted in the way that the NBA has been highlighted. Sure, let’s all talk about Chris Bosh’s blood clot for the hundredth time over again and forget to mention anything at all about the WNBA because that makes so much sense. The fact is: we are failing the women of the WNBA.

I’m tired of the media telling me that it’s my fault. Hell, the way I got into football was by playing daily fantasy games. Neither Fan Duel nor Draft Kings have a WNBA section, but they have about ten million ways to bet money on NBA players. I watched the women play in Rio this month, and they completely had it together. They were seriously destroying their competition. And yet all I heard about was how Carmelo Anthony thinks Olympic gold medals are more important than NBA trophies. No one wants to highlight women’s basketball because they think viewers won’t care. Naturally, this causes viewers to do exactly that: not care.

The WNBA makes less money; therefore their players make less money. I understand that logic, but the gap is too different for me to accept. But for the sake of argument, let’s say that I did accept that. We can’t actually apply that to all other sports. This sort of gender pay gap isn’t just happening in basketball. Take a look at U.S. women’s soccer. I can name so many more women soccer players than I can name men soccer players. The women’s national team is the most successful in the entire world. They win World Cups and Olympic medals, with the exception of this year… but that’s taken on its own narrative for an unrelated reason. I’ve already heard someone say that the women not getting an Olympic medal this year is why no one cares about women’s soccer, even though the men’s team didn’t even qualify for the games themselves.

Speaking of the men’s national team… During the men’s FIFA World Cup in 2014, the U.S. team placed 15th, won the “best moment” award at the ESPYS that year just for beating Ghana, and received an extra bonus of 2 million dollars for getting cut in the 16th round. The U.S. Women’s team, on the other hand, was given the same amount of 2 million dollars for actually winning the women’s world cup in 2015. And when I say they were given the same amount, it means they won 2 million dollars. Whereas the 2 million dollars the men received was a bonus added onto the 9 million they won for placing 15th. What I’m confused about is that I thought the United States of America cares about winning more than anything else. We like to win and then shove it down the throats of other countries and tell them how much better we are. However, it seems that I’m wrong. We only like to win if it’s our boys who are winning. A men’s team placing 15th versus a women’s team placing 1st is about the same in the eyes of America. Apparently.

The argument for women’s basketball is that it’s boring compared to men’s basketball. That’s not true, but even if it were, you cannot apply that same logic to women’s soccer. Women play just as intensely as the men do. I see more interesting moments when watching women play than I do watching men’s sports. The women are also forced to play on AstroTurf (an artificial grass surface), which is just about the best metaphor for everything that I’m arguing right now.

Let’s put it this way: can you name five players playing in MLS? Can you name even one? There was that one goalie that was far better than the rest of the U.S. men’s team during the world cup in 2014. Everyone was talking about him during that time. Do you remember his name?

No. The answer is no to every question I just asked. If your answer is yes, you’re either a liar or way more educated on soccer than the average American. Something isn’t working, and it’s not the female athletes: it’s the system. Women always seem to have to prove themselves as worthy, but even when they do, they are still scrutinized and told that men bring in more viewers, that men work harder, or whatever it might be.

Take Billie Jean King for instance. She is a former professional tennis player originally from California. She has won thirty nine grand slam titles and is one of the most recognizable tennis players of all time. Flashback to this past March when Raymond Moore, the CEO of the annual Indian Wells Masters tournament, said this: “If I was a lady player, I’d go down every night on my knees and thank God that Roger Federer and Rafael Nadal were born, because they have carried this sport. They really have.” King’s response was way nicer than what I would have said: “Disappointed in Raymond Moore’s comments. He is wrong on so many levels. Every player, especially the top players, contribute to our success.”

King could have been a lot sassier, and rightfully so. In 1973, King defeated the pompous Bobby Riggs who, at age 55, claimed that he could beat any women playing in the league professionally during that time. Everything about this game was fair, and it ended in a monstrous defeat. Compare it to a scenario of Michelle Wie defeating Tiger Woods. It’s that big of a deal. King showed everyone that a woman can be just as great of an athlete as a man, and since then, she has led the way for other women in sports. The only problem, however, is that she’s just one person. She’s just one woman actually, so that even gives her less of an opportunity of being heard. It’s one woman against a country that hates change and favors men. She accomplished a lot and is a hero, but that doesn’t mean the world is magically the way it should be. We know better than to get our hopes up like that.

A woman gets paid seventy nine cents for every dollar a man makes. The difference is even greater in the sports world. I have heard so many different men, and even some women, blaming women athletes themselves for this problem. It makes me so angry just thinking about it. These women work just as hard as the men do, and it’s not their fault news outlets refuse to highlight their achievements as frequently.

Look at it this way: If there is a chief executive officer of a successful major business, he will get paid a certain amount. The entire office will know of his achievements because he has people shouting it from the rooftops for him. He will get a large bonus in one year, even though the company lost money that same exact year. Then, a woman will come in and take-over his job once the man retires. She will do everything exactly the way he did and even perform better than he did. And yet she will get paid less and no one will shout from the rooftops for her. Everyone will just tell her that it’s because she doesn’t have enough people who like her or because she doesn’t work as hard. Oh, and people will tell her to just be grateful for what she can get.

I understand why women athletes are frustrated. It’s not fair. No matter what excuses you try to give these situations, it’s not fair. No matter how you try and twist the situation to fit a certain narrative, it doesn’t make it right.

There’s a lot at fault in the sports world; the gender disparity in the sports world is a reflection of the gender pay gap in the daily worker world. The reason why it’s more extreme when it comes to female athletes is because we treat our male athletes like idols. Whether it’s the fear of our idols being out-shone or just a dislike of women doing something athletic, it’s belittlement at its best. Because even though I’ve given so many examples as to how female athletes unfairly make less pay than men, it isn’t even a small percentage of the greater picture of what’s going on. And that’s the saddest part of all.

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