The ongoing struggle for equality in sports

March 24 marked Equal Pay Day in America. According to the National Committee on Pay Equality, “This date symbolizes how far into the year women must work to earn what men earned in the previous year.”

This year’s Equal Pay Day fell during the NCAA March Madness tournament, in which the disparities between the men’s and women’s events became abundantly clear. 

Picture walking into a gym with a few sets of dumbbells reaching a mere 30 pounds and a short stack of yoga mats. To anyone hoping to get a decent workout, this would be unsatisfactory equipment, let alone for an entire collegiate team playing in the most important tournament of their season. Yet, these were the resources offered to the women during the NCAA March Madness tournament.

The NCAA’s Vice President of Women’s Basketball attributed the women’s weight room (or lack thereof) to “limited space” and claimed that the workout area would be expanded once additional space was available later in the tournament. 

While the NCAA quickly acted to enhance the women’s training room, the problem was unheard of in the men’s tournament, where they were supplied with a full-fledged gym from the start of the tournament.  

NCAA women’s basketball weight room compared to the men’s weight room. (Photo courtesy of Instagram @kershner.ali)

On March 27, shortly after the NCAA controversy, Draymond Green, forward for the Golden State Warriors, released his opinion about WNBA players demanding an end to the ongoing pay disparity. In his tweets, Green said, “…the requests that are being made are falling on deaf ears because y’all keep saying pay me more, with no way to drive the revenue. Force hands!”

While Green is valid in stating that a lot of the pay disparity can be attributed to the lack of revenue in women’s sports, he is completely ignoring all that women have tried to do in order to create more revenue.

In response to his tweet, USWNT Soccer Player Megan Rapinoe tweeted, “Respectfully, do you really think we haven’t been out here asking for more investment, more resources, more storytelling, more branding, and marketing dollars, more youth investment, more investment in coaches, more TV time etc etc etc etc etc to infinity…” 

Just days before Green’s tweets, on March 24, President Biden invited Rapinoe and teammate Margaret Purce to meet at the White House to discuss the pay gap. During the visit, Rapinoe said, “I’ve been devalued, I’ve been disrespected and dismissed because I am a woman…. Despite all the wins, I’m still paid less than men who do the same job that I do.” 

Rapinoe’s remarks about women’s soccer being paid less than “men who do the same job” are very mild considering how much the USWNT far outshine the men’s team. 

According to ESPN, in 2019 the women’s team surpassed the men’s in overall spectator average (28,002 for the women versus 21,776 for the men). In addition, the 2019 World Cup final was the most-watched Women’s World Cup match ever, with an audience of 82.18 million. The men’s national team did not even qualify for the 2018 World Cup. 

I could go on about the number of wins the women have and, while this isn’t to say the men aren’t working hard if the women are more successful than the men, why are they not making an equal amount of money?

This issue transcends well beyond sports and is visible within almost all sectors of the workforce. In 2020, the U.S. placed 53rd globally for gender parity according to the World Economic Forum (a drop from 51st the previous year), which is humiliating for a country that prides itself on “liberty and justice for all.” 

In order to put an end to the pay gap once and for all, we need to raise more awareness of the disparities that exist and work to combat these issues rather than criticize those they are affecting.