There is No Excuse: Pay Equity for Women in Sports Must Happen

pay equity
Revenue from women’s soccer in the U.S. has increased substantially since 2016, and continues to to be on par with revenue for men’s soccer. Why are professional women soccer players paid so much less? (Image Credit: U.S. Soccer, WSJ)

“The pay gap is an issue, and that issue will go on,” said U.S. Soccer Foundation President and CEO, Ed Foster-Simeon in a recent article discussing the lawsuit filed by the U.S. Women’s Soccer team for pay equity. This is an important point for women donors to pay attention to, since funding for legal defense to get the pay equity issue for women’s soccer rectified is, in some ways, the cutting edge of feminism, and might be an issue more donors want to move to the front burner, at least temporarily.

How is this an important issue for everyone that the US Women’s National Team, which is now competing in the Women’s World Cup, is paid equitably? It’s a multi-prong argument, but let’s just start with the loot — women’s games are now bringing in just as much as men’s games, and recently even more. So from business standpoint, the women players have become big drivers of financial gain for this market.

Pay Equity and its Relation to Business Markets

This is important, because many arguments for gender equality hinge on the point that women’s equality is good for the economy and for business markets. In the case of women’s soccer in the U.S., there is undeniable proof that the sport is a driver of revenue. As a result, the major stars of this sport, the women soccer players, must be equitably compensated.

A second point of argument comes from looking back in time just a few decades, to when professional women soccer players were being practically nothing. Kristine Lilly, who started playing for the U.S. Women’s National Team in 1987, recalled in this article how the wage of $10 a day was the norm at that time. It’s a wonder any of these players survived to make a career in the business, given how poorly they were compensated in the recent past. The best way to deal with this outrageous history? Make reparations as soon as possible, by paying women soccer players equitably.

A third point of argument comes from the context of women in sports in general. This appears to be a growing market on several fronts, with new evidence of growth happening all the time. One recent example? The Women’s Football League Association just announced its first multi-million dollar contract with a franchise. The number one draft pick will earn $1 million annually. As the article states, “This will be the first notable million-dollar contract ever issued to a woman in a contact sport throughout history, and across the globe.” In other words, it’s already happening, maybe not in soccer, but in football — women’s football. Smart sports businesses and sponsors are getting in on the growing market of women athletes. Paying women players adequately will need to be part of that equation.

A final point comes from the fact that playing soccer is not without risks, and these women players deserve to be compensated for the level of risk and sacrifice that their sport involves. This article discusses how two former professional soccer players, Michelle Akers and Brandi Chastain, will participate in research for the purpose of studying Chronic Traumatic Encephalopathy (CTE) in female soccer players. With the level of risk that women soccer players are exposing themselves to by playing the game, they deserve to be adequately compensated.

It’s hard to imagine the USWNT lawsuit failing, but then again, as we’ve seen repeatedly with arguments for gender equality that are based on sound business reasoning, this is not always enough to galvanize change. Let’s hope things will be different in the case of women soccer players seeking equal pay for their star athleticism.


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Author: Kiersten Marek

Kiersten Marek, LICSW, is the founder of Philanthropy Women. She practices clinical social work and writes about how women donors and their allies are advancing social change.

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