Solomon: The Hardest Match

by Ioana Solomon | 4/20/16 5:44pm

Most of you probably remember that the United States women’s national soccer team won the Fédération Internationale de Football Association World Cup last year. And if you do not recall this exciting victory, I’m willing to bet that it was far more popular news than the men’s team coming in 15th place the year before. This polarity in international prestige between the men’s and women’s soccer teams is not just a recent phenomenon. The U.S. men’s national soccer team has participated in several World Cups, with their best season occurring in 1930 when they came in third, followed by their more recent second best in 2002 when they reached the quarterfinals. By contrast, the women’s team has won three World Cups and four Olympic gold medals since 1991. In 2015 alone, they generated $20 million more in revenue than the men’s team. The catch? The women are paid a mere fourth of what the men earn.

Just three weeks ago, five members of the women’s team, speaking on behalf of their fellow players, decided they were going to fight the institutions and employers that subject them to such flagrant injustice. The women filed a wage-discrimination action with the national Equal Employment Opportunity Commission against the U.S. Soccer Federation. This isn’t their first attempt to speak out, and it likely will not be their last. However, by bravely demanding what is rightfully theirs time and time again, the U.S. women’s soccer team has opened more eyes and raised more eyebrows to the gender pay gap.

There are, of course, those who claim that women just simply do not bring in as much revenue as men. Therefore, demanding equal pay for unequal contributions is sexist against men. To the uninformed, those claims might appear valid and even compelling — but they couldn’t be further from the truth. According to projections detailed in the EEOC filing, the women’s team is expected to bring in $5 million in profit and $18 million in revenue over the coming fiscal year, yet players will earn only a quarter of what the men will. Even if we look beyond projections and focus on the salaries and rates currently in place, things aren’t any less grim. If the women’s team wins 20 exhibition matches, it would earn $99,000 per player. For a similar performance, the men would earn $352,000 each. They would still top women’s earnings with a payday of $100,000 even if the men’s team lost every single match.

Unfortunately, the wage discrimination that the women’s soccer team faces isn’t unique in the sports world or even to one level of competition. While tennis is often considered one of the leading sports in promoting and embodying gender equality, it faced similar scrutiny when both Roger Federer and Serena Williams defended their singles championship titles at the Western & Southern Open last year. Federer earned $731,000 while Williams earned just $495,000. The tournament, in which the U.S. Tennis Association is a stakeholder, explicitly pays female athletes 63 cents for every dollar earned by their male counterparts. The pay gap extends down the competitive ladder. A 2014 study by the International Tennis Federation compared the average costs involved in playing professional tennis to prize money, and found that 336 male players could earn enough to cover average expenses, while only 253 women could.

Naturally, there are still debates about how viewership rates factor into wages for professional athletes. I’m not going to claim that women deserve equal pay in absolutely every sport, and I’m also not going to argue that women and men get equal numbers of spectators. But almost everyone can agree that female athletes deserve to be paid, if not equally to their male counterparts, at least proportionally to the tickets they sell and the revenue they bring in.

The wage gap outside of sports is an ongoing and equally contentious fight. However, athletics are a particular and important part of this problem — a problem that seems to further exacerbate existing symptoms of systemic sexism and that seems to hit closer to home, especially at Dartmouth. As a community with a particular appreciation for and emphasis on athletics, we should ask ourselves what we can do to better balance the playing field for many of our friends, classmates and future alumni with aspirations to become professional athletes. The fact that most of us have preconceived notions about women’s sports which characterize them as less exciting or interesting is part of the problem. If nothing else, convince yourself to watch a women’s match once in a while, whether on television or on campus. If it’s not your cup of tea, that’s fine, but at least you gave it a chance. Achieving gender equality in wages is the hardest match female athletes are fighting ­and dismantling stereotypes and promoting open-mindedness is an easy way for us to contribute, without even a drop of lactic acid moving up our limbs.