Editor’s note: Today’s editorial originally appeared in The (Eugene, Ore.) Register-Guard. Editorial content from other publications and authors is provided to give readers a sampling of regional and national opinion and does not necessarily reflect positions endorsed by the Editorial Board of The Daily News.
It’s the biggest game in women’s soccer.
Those were the opening lines of sportswriter Nancy Armour’s column in USA Today about Friday night’s match between the U.S. women’s soccer team and France.
Despite those accolades, this is the reality: The women’s national team is more successful and consequently plays more matches than the men’s team, yet the women are paid significantly less. While working toward the World Cup, the women also pursued a lawsuit against their employer — the U.S. Soccer Federation — alleging systemic gender-based discrimination that was borne out in lower pay, inferior playing surfaces and other factors.
The legal filing contends, for example, that if men and women played similar matches during 2013-2016, the women’s compensation would have equated to only 38% of the men’s. A new collective bargaining agreement in 2017 provided higher pay but still less than the men’s team.
It appears that the soccer federation will enter into mediation with the players after the World Cup, which is a good sign. There is much to address, especially since there is good evidence that the women’s matches bring in more revenue than men’s. As the court filing states, the women’s national team “has enjoyed unparalleled success in international soccer” — and still is treated as second-class.
The disparities are unconscionable, and not only in soccer.
If Sabrina Ionescu had entered the WNBA draft this spring instead of staying at the University of Oregon, her entry-level salary as a professional athlete could have ranged from the league minimum of $41,965 to the $53,537 paid to three top draft picks. Is it any wonder that a majority of WNBA players go overseas for part of the year, playing for higher pay and prestige, and then return for the WNBA season?
Not so for NBA players. Last year, their rookies made about $560,000. The big-time players collected millions, even tens of millions of dollars.
Meanwhile, the official maximum salary for veteran WNBA players in 2018 was $113,500.
There are many reasons behind these gender disparities in pay. Actually, they’re excuses: Women’s sports aren’t as popular. They don’t bring in as many fans or marketing dollars. People must be patient as the wage gap gradually is closed. And on and on ...
Those excuses belong in the trash.
The WNBA arguably is growing faster than the early NBA. The U.S. women’s national soccer team has captured the world’s attention not just the nation’s. Female professional athletes in alpine skiing, tennis and some other sports are better known than their male counterparts.
The unmistakable obstacle is that too many sports executives and supposed marketing gurus — traditionally, men — have treated women’s sports as a circular, self-fulfilling prophecy. Women’s sports and female athletes weren’t marketed as heavily because they wouldn’t generate as much money.
That approach flies in the face of demographic trends. Women outnumber men in both Oregon and the United States, and savvy executives can invest in that market, promoting individual athletes as well as their sports. After all, stimulating contests appeal across gender lines, as women’s mixed martial arts has proved.
This disparity also is rooted in society’s lack of commitment to equality. In 2017, women in the U.S. on average earned 80% of what their male counterparts did, according to a report by the American Association of University Women. Women in Oregon fared slightly better at 82%.
Nationally, the disparity is even greater for women of color. Compared with white males’ earnings in 2017, Hispanic women earned 53% as much; Native American women, 58%; and African American women, 61%. The wage gap helps explain why so women take the entrepreneurial route, forming their own companies instead of being paid below their worth.
It doesn’t have to be this way. Major corporations such as Starbucks, Intel and Adobe have achieved pay equity, according to Fortune. Those companies reap the benefits of being more attractive to talented women as well as to men who appreciate that workplace culture.
Oregon lawmakers have struggled with equity for decades. A new law that took effect this year makes significant inroads in requiring equal pay for comparable work. The law also expanded who would be covered by the anti-discrimination provisions.
But we shouldn’t need laws and lawsuits. The U.S. Soccer Federation must come to its senses, end the gender gap and show the way for other outdated employers.