By Michael Otero
Gender equality, or should I say inequality, is an issue that always stirs the pot. Whether in the work place, in politics or elsewhere, everyone seems to have an opinion. So why should sports be any different?
According to www.womenssportsfoundation.org, there are significant gaps in terms of payment for performance in men’s and women’s sports. The site states that in 2014, the PGA Tour total prize money was over $340 million while the LPGA Tour totaled just north of $61 million, which happened to be a new-high. The earnings for national soccer teams are similarly unequal. For claiming first place in the 2015 Women’s World Cup, the U.S. National Team won $2 million, while its male counterparts, which finished in eleventh place in the 2014 Men’s World Cup, cashed out at $9 million. Partially in response to these figures, five players from the Women’s National Team filed a lawsuit on behalf of all members of the team claiming wage discrimination.
Perhaps the most glaring difference between pay for performance between men and women is seen on the hardwood. In 2015, the WNBA had a minimum salary of $38,913 and a maximum salary of $109,500, with a team salary cap set around $900,000. Now in the NBA, the minimum salary in 2015 was $525,093 and the highest salary for a single player was a staggering $25 million. The team salary is set at $70 million and is expected to rise with television contracts expiring after the current season.
The highest paid female athlete in the world is Maria Sharapova. According to www.forbes.com, the Russian tennis star earned $29.7 million in 2015, most of that coming from endorsement deals. Sharapova is one of seven female tennis players in the top 10 of highest paid female athletes. The non-tennis female athletes in the top 10 include house hold names like Danica Patrick and Ronda Rousey.
Boxing superstar Floyd ‘Money’ Mayweather made a staggering $300 million in 2015 in just two fights according to the same forbes.com study. Although Kobe Bryant is the NBA’s highest paid player at $25 million, LeBron James and Kevin Durant earn more when they combine their salaries with off-court endorsements. In total, Sharapova’s earnings of $29.7 million land her the twenty-sixth spot in terms of highest paid athletes. She lands right in the middle of New York Knicks forward Carmelo Anthony and Arizona Cardinals quarterback Carson Palmer.
What does all this mean? It means that there is an obvious gender divide in athletics in our country. The roots of the games being played are the exact same; the only thing changing is the sex of the people playing the sport. Television ratings certainly back up men’s leagues with billion dollar contracts powering the big four sports leagues, (NFL, NBA, MLB and NHL), but does that explain why the best player in the WNBA barely makes a fifth of what the worst player in the NBA makes?
Some might say: If women’s sports received the same amount of media coverage as men’s sports, they would be just as popular. That’s a fair and legitimate point, but I fail to think of a time when that will happen. Viewers may prefer to watch a tennis match with two women as opposed to two men, but if we’re talking about a sport with a larger following than tennis, the viewership for men vs women are in different stratospheres. Take basketball for instance. Men trump women in ratings both at the professional and collegiate level. The NCAA men’s national championship drew 28 million people in 2015 compared to three million for the women the following night. The same can be said for the NBA which saw their highest rated game come in at 18 million compared to 828,000 in the WNBA.
Leagues that clearly favor men’s athletics over women’s are starting to become the norm. Yet there are professional sports leagues that are gender equal in terms of payments. Those sports include surfing, marathon running and, most notably, tennis. All four Grand Slam tournaments (Australian Open, French Open, Wimbledon and the U.S. Open), offer equal prize money to the champions.
Although men’s sports are generally played at a more physical level and involve a higher tempo, women’s sports deserve more recognition in terms of earnings for participants. How a woman can make $100,000 and be the best player while a man can make $25 million and also be the best player makes no sense. Women are playing the exact same sport as men and the salaries should reflect that. In an ideal world, there would be no pay differences, but as we know, the world is far from ideal.