Illustration by Grace Schafer-Perry
For many, ending a day of practice means falling asleep with dreams of becoming a professional athlete, and getting paid large sums of money to do so. But for female athletes, this will almost certainly never be a reality. The pay gap between men and women is a known and unsolved phenomenon across many professions. This disparity has not escaped professional sports.
Following the US women’s soccer team’s win in the 2011 World Cup, the pay gap in sports returned to the spotlight. As a reward for their victory, the team was given two million dollars. However, two million pales in comparison to the nine million dollars that the US men’s team took home for losing in the round of sixteen, and the 35 million dollars the German men got for winning.
In the 2017 Forbes Magazine rankings for top 100 highest paid athletes, Serena Williams was the only female. Although she ranks 51st, she still makes significantly less than her male counterparts. Even when you look past annual salary and focus on endorsement deals, she is not making comparable money to men in her field. Williams makes about thirteen million dollars annually from endorsement deals, compared to Roger Federer, who makes around $58 million.
You might be tempted to compensate for this pay gap by suggesting that these female athletes are not as good respectively as their male counterparts. But this is untrue. Williams has 21 Grand Slam titles compared to Federer’s seventeen. Similarly, the US women’s soccer team has won the Women’s World Cup three times, while the US men’s team has never won it.
Then, the argument turns to viewership and fans. Men’s professional sports bring in more revenue than women’s professional sports through viewership, merchandise sales, and advertising. While the WNBA earned at least $51.5 million dollars last year, the NBA gets $2.6 billion from ESPN alone. Although the WNBA makes significantly less than the NBA, the WNBA pays their athletes no more than 28 percent of what they bring in. Athletes in the NBA take home about 50 percent of the league’s annual earnings. This raises the question: why aren’t WNBA athletes getting that 50 percent?
Even though the majority of women’s sports are underwatched, this isn’t the case when it comes to tennis and soccer, which have a substantial following. So why don’t the salaries of athletes reflect that?
With an increase in popularity and skill, a raise in the respect and pay of female athletes should follow. Professional sports must shift from the tendencies of the past. Female athletes work just as hard as male athletes. They deserve equal pay, equal respect, and equal opportunity.