Today, I am super excited about something that has been in the news. I don’t always attach the topics of my podcast to current events but something so exciting has come up in the Sports news, no less, that I can’t wait to talk about it on the episode.
Five, star players from the U.S women’s national soccer team have filed a complaint with the Equal Employment Opportunity Commission, saying that the U.S Soccer Federation pays the reigning World Cup Champions far less than their male counterparts.
Most of us already knew this. Back in July, I wrote an article about the pay gap in sports, specifically concerned with the U.S World Cup winning team. The thing is that when people push back against the idea of equal pay for women, sports is usually one of the areas that they highlight, and then how many times do we hear:
“Well, it’s not our fault, it’s not like we want to pay women less, people just don’t want to watch women play sports. They just aren’t as good at sports. They don’t have the really exciting plays, they can’t slam dunk in basketball, they don’t hit each other hard enough in football.”
You know, they don’t do all these things that we’re used to men doing in male sports. Therefore, we don’t get the butts in the seats in the stadiums, you don’t have the eyes on the television broadcast, they aren’t generating the ad revenue.
However, when the U.S soccer team won the World Cup, a lot of those arguments were completely shattered. I have problems with those arguments to start with and I’ll get to those in a second, but the fact that they won the World Cup, the U.S men’s team came nowhere close to winning the World Cup. I think they made it…did they even make it to the final 16? However, not only did the U.S win the World Cup, which is just a stunning achievement in its own, they also brought in far more revenue than the male soccer team.
And then we get the arguments…
Now, some people will say, “Oh, soccer’s totally different. Soccer’s not a very American sport,” you know. While on the worldwide stage, soccer is basically the most loved sport of all countries around the whole world. When you watch the World Cup, (Hey, I’m married to a Brit, so I get to watch the World Cup every 4 years) and see that the rest of the world loves soccer.
For some reason, America doesn’t. For some reason, we actually changed the name. We took “football”, which is what everyone else calls soccer in the rest of the world and we made it our own sport in America and then called what everyone else calls football, soccer. And we definitely relegated it a lesser position than pretty much any other sport than we have.
In America, we’ve got football, we’ve got baseball, we’ve got basketball, all of those in terms of revenue and ad money and viewership all rank above soccer. However, because soccer is so important worldwide, I think it’s a really poignant moment to look at why the women’s team winning the World Cup is so important.
A lot of people argued that pay gaps in general, especially in sports, are not sexism but the economics that women have different bodies, different abilities, they quite literally cannot play on the same field as men. Some people have also told me on my own Facebook page, in fact, that the pay gap doesn’t even exist.
I’ve had a lot of push back here and there. I mean, not a lot of times but from individual people. I’ve had individual people come at me very strongly about the fact that pay gaps don’t exist. Oh, and where they do, that’s actually not because of anything that we’re doing, that’s not sexism, that’s just biology, you know, that’s just how it is. “I’m not saying it’s right that women aren’t equal to men but yeah, they’re not equal to men”. That’s basically the argument that you get.
The cold, hard, stats
The statistics that I found when I did my article last summer on the U.S women’s soccer team win showed that U.S women soccer league salaries range from $6000 a year to $30,000 a year. In a lot of cases, this can put the player below the poverty line in the cities in which they compete without having another job and each National Women’s Soccer League team operates with a salary cap of $200,000 which includes all the games they play, for any bonuses they get for different things,
Women soccer players can’t earn more than $200,000 which is about what David Beckham makes for sneezing or frying an egg
Given all of that, I am so proud of the five, star players from the U.S women’s national soccer team who have filed this complaint. It is such a huge step towards equal pay in all areas of life. I mean, this one area that has always been kind of the sacred cow of discriminatory pay in terms of women. If they can win this, if they can get those salary caps lifted and actually get their pay, at least, equal to what the men are getting paid for not winning World Cups and for not bringing in as many viewers. I personally think they should be getting paid far more. Tweet that!
What does it mean off the pitch?
Beyond that, let’s look at what this would do for the world of sports as a whole for women and also for equal pay overall. So, like I said, sports is this area where everyone has always been like, “Okay, sure. Yeah, a female hairdresser should get paid the same as a male hairdresser. Sure, a female chef should get paid the same as an equally talented male chef.” But, when it comes to sports, women can’t compete on the same field as men.
I feel like in the U.S, at least, there are a lot of ways in which equal rights for women have followed behind equal rights for non-white men. For example, the vote. When the Emancipation Proclamation happened followed by the 14th amendment and former slaves were declared to be full citizens who had the right to vote, women were still not considered full citizens and still did not have the right to vote. That took several more decades for us to win.
Let’s look at the Supreme Court too. The Supreme Court of the United States had its first African American male member in Thurgood Marshall in 1967, I believe it was, and it was several decades later that we got Sandra Day O’Connor, the very first female Supreme Court justice which was super exciting. However, it was still really difficult for her. It wasn’t until a second female got on the Court that they even put a female restroom in the chambers. There were no female restrooms, it was just the restroom of the Courts which was for all the men because it had always been men.
So again, the rights and the opportunities following a bit behind, a few decades behind that of giving the same rights to non-white men.
And it’s not just the USA
So, for a long time in sports as well, non-white men and women really were not welcome. Not only on the field of play, but also in the bleachers, in the seating.
I was talking to my husband the other day about how this worked in England and he was saying that for football, British football, what we call soccer in the U.S, it really wasn’t until the numbers started lagging with Sky TV and people watching at home that they started even trying to market football games as a family-friendly environment.
It used to be all standing which meant you really couldn’t bring children. He said it was really rough. For the most part, women really weren’t welcomed there or on the field of play.
If you look at how long it has taken for Asian men, African men, men who don’t look like “British people”, to break into both soccer and cricket, the big sports over there.
It’s interesting how dominated a lot of U.S sports are by non-white men. However, when you think about the culture that we’re all brought up in, this culture, if it tells you all your life and all your parents’ life and all their parents’ life, that you don’t belong somewhere, that this thing is not for you, say non-segregated education. When that was not something that African American people were brought up to expect and to think as something that belong to them, it took a long time to get people in there.
But some are more equal than others
I know that there are a lot of people who argued back in the day when they wanted to keep schools segregated that, “Well, they’re not actually equal.” People who are not white are not actually equal to white and I feel like the same thing has happened over and over with women through all of these different eras, through all these different milestones that we overcome one by one.
“Well, we’ve always done it this way. You’ve never been considered equal here, so you aren’t equal.”
Speaking of Beckham, I brought him up briefly before, one of my favourite soccer movies ever, or football movies if you’re in England, is “Bend It Like Beckham” and I loved it, that he lent his name to the film and that he appears at the end because the whole film was about girls who are fantastic at football/soccer but it’s so frustrating that they don’t have much of a career path to follow.
For them, it was coming to the U.S where there actually is a National Women’s League where they have somewhere to compete but even then the salary is so paltry that it’s not a fantastic career proposition. And also in sports, often your career is limited by injuries, by age, by fitness, you know, if something happens, if you have some illness or some difficulty, that can really affect your ability to compete.
Can women make a career in any sport?
For a lot of sports, you don’t really have a long term career. It doesn’t stretch out as far as for other things because it’s reliant on your physical body. I feel like for ages we have discouraged women from thinking of sports as something that they could possibly do for a career. Women have never really associated sports with their income except in a few small, narrow regions where say they go to the Olympics, but then were training at such a young age and again you can only win Olympic gold for so many years, usually, before you age out of your ability to compete, before there are younger, stronger people coming up against you which is so interesting.
Let’s think about it in terms of say, a figure skater who wants to compete in the Olympics. It is so expensive to get the coaches and the equipment and the training and the hours, you have to travel for these minor competitions, the amateur competitions, go from one place to another. Doing all this work, not getting paid for it and if you win your Gold medal, you might get some endorsements, you might make money for a while. But really, then, what is your career after that?
Maybe you can do the “Ice Capades”, you can go do Ice Shows, Disney On Ice, that kind of thing but if you’re actually an athlete, what’s next? What’s next after the Olympics and so many people never even make it to the Olympics. So I think this idea that women can have a real career in sports beyond this super, super slim proposition of being able to win an Olympic gold is a relatively new thing. I think it’s a new and exciting thing, I think that women should be able to have real careers in sports, just like men do and I’m hoping that this is going to be the start of it.
I hope that they’re successful with this complaint, I hope that they do get better pay and I hope that this has a knock on effect through different sports industries. I can only imagine how inspiring this would be for girls in high school who play soccer right now. Looking up to this woman for inspiration and thinking, “Wow, well maybe some day I can do that. Maybe some day I can actually make enough to make a living without having a second job as a professional athlete the way men do. Oh my gosh, that would be amazing.
So I’m not only going to link to the article that I wrote last Summer which cites some interesting statistics about women in sport but also an article that I have right here in front of me about this Equal Employment Opportunity Commission complaint that the five, star players from the U.S women’s national soccer team have filed. I really hope they’re successful.
Good luck, ladies. We are all watching you, we are all cheering you on and wishing you the best. You are trailblazers for us and I am so proud of you. Thank you.
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