Gender Inequality in Sports

by

Eshan Shameem

(Eshan is the elder son of Pooja and Baqar Shameem. He is in XI Grade in Conrad School of Science, Wilmington Delaware)

When looking at men’s and women’s sports the main issue that stands out is the pay gap. In 2017 the starting salary of a WNBA player was less than $42,000, while an NBA player’s starting salary was $600,000 (Butler, 2019). Female players in sports, especially in the WNBA, have historically received a much smaller portion of league-wide revenue (Akst, 2020). In the 9th year after the NBA was founded, players were given 50% of the leagues’ operating income, while WNBA players had only been given 21% of league revenue even in its 20th season (Akst, 2020).  The WNBA is not the only sport that has a pay gap problem.  Many sports are struggling to pay their players equally to their male counterparts. This can be shown in the U.S. Women’s National Soccer Team. Even though the U.S. Women’s National Soccer Team has won the most World Cups in Women’s World Cup history, they still struggle to make the same revenue as the U.S. Men’s National Soccer Team (Akst, 2020). All these problems lead to the question: What is the best way to reduce the pay gap between men’s and women’s sports? Finding a solution to the pay gap between men’s and women’s sports could encourage more women to choose sports as their career. This eventually could lead to these leagues growing to the same level as their male counterparts. If these leagues were to expand to that level, other industries could narrow their pay gap as well, and also help start important conversations about gender equality and to advocate for women’s rights more widely. By examining the lack of media representation for women’s sports and unfair treatment within the leagues, it can be concluded that these are the main causes for the pay gap in women’s sports and they must be resolved.

It is an undisputed fact that viewership directly correlates to revenue. Since revenue dictates pay, the lack of media representation of female athletes causes major issues in the pay disparity in men’s and women’s sports. In an interview with the Wall Street Journal, expert Dr. Nola Agha from the University of San Francisco has stated that “U.S. Soccer claims they cannot pay their men’s and women’s national teams equally because of revenue disparities. But they make scant efforts to promote and sell the women’s national team, whose members run the same number of laps, do the same number of sit-ups, and spend the same amount of time training” (2019).   Jenesse Miller from the University of Southern California shows that in a survey conducted by USC/Purdue University about men’s and women’s sports coverage, researchers found that a total of 95% of television coverage as well as ESPN highlights from their show SportsCenter was focused on men’s sports in 2019 (2021). These researchers also found the same disparity in coverage in social media posts and sports newsletters. According to Cheryl Cooky, a professor of American studies and women’s gender and sexuality studies from Purdue University, “Eighty percent of the news and highlights programs in our study devoted zero time for women’s sports, On the rare broadcast when a women’s sports story does appear, it is usually a case of one and done — a single women’s sports story partially eclipsed by a cluster of men’s stories that precede it, follow it and are longer in length” (Miller 2021). Cheryl Cooky’s point is that almost all of the news and highlight programs they studied spared no time for women’s sports; and on the rare chance they would report the story, the companies would only report one story then go back to the men’s sports highlights and news. Another problem with television coverage is the scheduling of matches where women’s and men’s events usually conflict with one another resulting in lesser viewership for the women’s event. Phlumzile Mlambo-Ngcuka from the United Nations confirms this statement. Mlambo-Ngucka explains that match scheduling is a type of investment as well. Where women’s matches clash with men’s, viewership rivalry may build a vicious cycle of lower prize money, lower wages for female athletes, and play into the myth that women’s sport is of lesser value (Mlambo-Ngucka, 2019). But, all this does not matter if we as fans do not watch these games. As said by Dr. Victor Mathison from College of the Holy Cross in an interview with the Wall Street Journal, “It’s not incumbent on female fans to take a greater interest in women’s teams. It’s about all sports fans taking an interest. The single biggest thing any person can do to promote pay equity in sports is to become a women’s sports fan” (2019). Mathison’s point is that in order for women’s teams to grow, not only female fans but all sports fans, in general, have to support the women’s teams.

Unfair treatment towards women’s sports has also led to lesser access to resources resulting in larger pay disparity. Men’s sports receive support in many forms that is rarely seen in women’s sports.  Since 1990, the big five men’s pro-sports leagues in the United States have collected $30 billion in government funding for new stadiums and arenas. Municipal-bond interest exemptions, property-tax exemptions, below-market stadium-rental rates, stadium-maintenance incentives, and other taxpayer handouts are provided to the major leagues. (Akst, 2019).  Such handouts and perks give an unfair advantage to male sports over female sports. Despite limited access to such perks and resources, female sports have surpassed males sports in some cases while still being treated less favorably. This can be exemplified with FIFA’s World Cup. If a men’s national soccer team loses in the World Cup, they still bring back $8 million; but when the U.S. Women’s National Soccer Team won the Women’s World Cup, they only brought back $4 million (Akst, 2019). Such discrepancies can also be observed in the way that college sports are run within campuses. At Michigan, softball has had more success than baseball, they have a higher profile on campus, sell out every game, and have been much more popular than men’s baseball. But when the men’s baseball team made a run to the 2019 College World Series, the attention and hype was triple from what the Michigan Softball team received for winning 21 championships (Akst, 2019). It is not just players who are treated unfairly but coaches too. Coach Carol Hutchins, the most successful softball coach in NCAA history, states that “women coaches are let go at higher rates than men, and students report “abuse” by female coaches who are tough on them or hold them accountable. Women are expected to exhibit the “pink traits,” meaning to be kind, nurturing caretakers. Men are expected to exhibit “blue traits,” meaning to be tough, demanding, driven, intense. So when females exhibit blue traits, which of course are just traits of leadership, we are often held to a different standard” (Akst, 2019).

In tennis, one of the very few sports where male and female prominence is at a comparable level, we do see examples of fair treatment. Tennis has been awarding equal prize money to Grand Slams winners of either gender. Canadian tennis player Bianca Andreescu was awarded $3.85 million for winning the 2019 U.S. Open women’s singles title, the same amount that Men’s singles champion Rafael Nadal received (Hashemi, 2019). However, there is still plenty of unfair treatment in the tennis world. For instance in the 2015 Western & Southern Open in Mason, Ohio Roger Federer received $731,000 for defending his title at the tournament, while Serena Williams received $495,000 for defending hers hours later (Rothenberg, 2016).  The WNBA has taken the right step forward in giving their players a fair salary relative to their earnings. A new WNBA labor agreement promised to raise the players’ share of revenue to 50/50 as soon as 2021. If the league reaches certain revenue milestones, this would leave the average salary at around $200,000, up from $116,000 in 2019.

Although women’s sports have many hurdles like media representation and unfair treatment, 25% of men and 24% of women believe that men’s has a richer/more appealing tradition than women’s sports (Bramham, 2015). Also, 24% of men and 5% of women believed that women’s sports did not have the same quality of play as men’s sports. This is what many people believe is the reason why women’s sports receive less attention than men’s sports.

Although this is true, it is important to acknowledge a different statistic in the same survey. 26% of women and also 18% of men believe that the media does not give enough attention to women’s sports (Bramham, 2015). It is also important to acknowledge that, although many people believe that women’s sports have a lower quality of play than men’s, the Women’s World Cup had higher viewers in the U.S. than the Men’s World Cup in the U.S. According to a review by the Wall Street Journal, the U.S. Women’s National Soccer Team has generated more revenue than the men’s team over the past three years. The Women’s World Cup Final also pulled in 14.3 million U.S. viewers while the Men’s World Cup Final had only generated 11.4 million U.S. Viewers (Hess, 2019). If women’s sports had a lower quality of play then the higher viewership would not have been possible.

Women’s leagues have performed remarkably well despite having begun decades after male leagues and years of little representation in the media, sponsors, marketing, public relations, or government support. The WNBA, for example, has had higher ratings and attendance for many years than Major League Soccer. (Akst, 2019). In conclusion, if we are to fix the pay inequality in women’s sports, first we must give female athletes better access to resources and funding such as grants, facilities, and government support. Next, we must ensure better marketing and more prominence to women’s sports events in the media. The combination of better players and impartial media representation will generate more interest in women’s sports from sport’s fans around the world. More interest will lead to more viewership, which in turn will lead to more revenue. More revenue will eventually bring about equal pay for women’s sports.

Works Cited

Akst, Daniel. “What’s Behind the Gender Pay Gap in Sports?” Wall Street Journal Online, 27 Oct 2020. SIRS Issues Researcher, https://explore.proquest.com/sirsissuesresearcher/document/2470093154?accountid=202853.

Bramham, Daphne. “Finding a Place for Women in Sports Arena.” Vancouver Sun, 17 Jun 2015. SIRS Issues Researcher, https://explore.proquest.com/sirsissuesresearcher/document/2264244384?accountid=202853.

Butler, Betsy. “How Title IX Transformed U.S. Sports.” Los Angeles Times, 10 Jul 2019. SIRS Issues Researcher, https://explore.proquest.com/sirsissuesresearcher/document/2288822539?accountid=202853.

Crocker, Lizzie. “Stop Moaning about Women’s Soccer Pay.”SIRS Issues Researcher, 10 Jul 2015, https://explore.proquest.com/sirsissuesresearcher/document/2266173633?accountid=202853.

Mlambo-Ngcuka, Phumzile. “Op-Ed: Empowering Women through Sport.” UN Women, Olympic Review 110, 2 Apr. 2019, http://www.unwomen.org/en/news/stories/2019/4/op-ed-ed-phumzile-empowering-women-through-sport. 

Hess, Abigail Johnson. “US Viewership of the 2019 Women’s World Cup Final Was 22% Higher than the 2018 Men’s Final.” CNBC, CNBC, 10 July 2019, http://www.cnbc.com/2019/07/10/us-viewership-of-the-womens-world-cup-final-was-higher-than-the-mens.html. 

Hashemi, Danial. “Examining the Tennis Pay Gap.” Washington Square News, Washington Square News, 16 Sept. 2019, nyunews.com/sports/2019/09/16/tennis-pay-gap-problem/#. 

Rothenberg, Ben. “Roger Federer, $731,000; Serena Williams, $495,000: The Pay Gap..” New York Times (Online), 12 Apr 2016. SIRS Issues Researcher, https://explore.proquest.com/sirsissuesresearcher/document/2264152411?accountid=202853.

For pictures by Jafar Shameem, please log on to https://www.jafar.com/

4 thoughts on “Gender Inequality in Sports”

  1. Ehsan has made valid points explained very well , but the fact remains that disparity between male & female exists in many walks of life. Finally it boils down to revenue. Media has to increase the coverage of female sports which will increase the viewership resulting in higher revenue. Business Corporates should sponsor & fund women sports & women players. This will lead to greater remuneration for women players & substantially reduce the disparity between the genders.

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    1. Many thanks Surendra from Eshan who has read your kind words. A rejoinder from me! Does a substantial portion of women population watch sporting events? Are men really interested in watching women sporting events especially the field events? Statistics may support the reason for the disparities.

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  2. Extremely well researched article. The disparity in remunerations between men and women sports persons is glaring, tennis appears to attempt to reduce this gap.
    The viewership interest in women’s sports appear to provide one .answer. The official rules in the dress code for women’s beach volleyball where women are expected to wear mini bikini shorts showing their buttocks titillatingly is to increase viewership. In the Tokyo Olympics 2020, the Netherlands team was fined for not adhering to the dress code!!! The men could wear normal shorts. Such exhibitionist rules uses women’s body to increase viewership and thus revenues. In tennis too the attractive dresses that Serenea Williams and other players don and the desirably bulges that they show adds to the viewership. Ehsan might want to research and comment on this aspect.
    Very commendable effort Ehsan.

    Like

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