Female soccer players are a feisty lot. When they fall, they get back up – usually more quickly than their male counterparts, who often writhe around a while, hoping the ref will make a sympathetic call. They’re tough. Nothing keeps them down.
In the testosterone-drenched environment of professional sports, female footballers have earned widespread respect and devotion. When a record-breaking 23 million viewers tuned in to watch the U.S. team win the 2015 Women’s World Cup, it became the most watched soccer game – men’s or women’s – in American television history.
So when these elite players stood up to ask why they shouldn’t make as much money as their male counterparts, fans made it clear: They’re behind the women all the way. A pay equity complaint against the U.S. Soccer Federation filed by five elite players – all Olympic gold medalists – details stunning disparities in pay. Months after it was filed with the Equal Employment Opportunity Commission, the case is building momentum, sparking an important conversation in sports.
The world of pro athletes often seems to exist on a separate plane of reality, in which a Lionel Messi or a Cristiano Ronaldo can earn the GDP of a small nation. Folks might question whether this is really the sort of wage gap pay equity was created to address. Equal pay for work of equal value has proved an enduringly sticky wicket.
But with due respect to women toiling in chronically undervalued occupations, when it comes to professional athletes, equal work is not difficult to define. We’re talking about playing a standard 90-minute match, with or without a jock on. There is no other difference.
How big is the wage gap? Men and women play at least 20 “friendly” games a year. If they win, women get a $1,350 bonus. Men earn $5,000 a pop just to show up – and substantially more for a win. Even factoring in women’s base salaries, the complaint notes, a top female player who wins all 20 of her matches will still earn less than a man who loses every last game.
Worse, it calculates women are paid almost four times less than the men’s team while generating nearly $20 million more revenue. There’s really no excuse – equal play deserves equal pay. […]