The Fight for Equal Pay in Women’s Sports

April 2 – Equal Pay Day – marks the day U.S. women have finally earned the same amount of money as the average man did in 2018. Sports have long mirrored society, and the gender pay gap has persisted in athletics just as it has in the professional realm. And in sport, just as in society, women are fighting back, working towards the day when pay equality is achieved.

Here are five athletes, teams and leagues that are leading the charge:

The U.S. Women’s National Soccer Team (USWNT)

The USWNT has long been associated with leading the way in the fight for gender equity in soccer. Most recently, in advance of the 2019 FIFA Women’s World Cup in France, the United States women’s squad took a stand against “institutionalized gender discrimination” against the team. Twenty-eight members of the current national team pool announced in March that they are suing U.S. Soccer, seeking equitable pay and treatment, including damages for back pay.

The women’s team has far exceeded the success of their male counterparts, who failed to even qualify for the FIFA Men’s World Cup in 2018. Meanwhile, the women have placed in the top three teams in every Women’s World Cup since 1991 (when the women’s tournament began) and has three titles. In the six Olympic Games that have included women’s soccer, the U.S. has captured four golds and a silver.

“It’s a heavy responsibility, but it’s one that we gladly take on,” Becky Sauerbraunn told ESPN following the 2019 SheBelieves Cup. “And it’s something we’re going to keep trying to push and push and push until we feel that everything is equal. That’s far away from here, but that’s what we’re fighting toward.”

At the same time, The Guardian recently reported that in the 2018 fiscal year, USWNT head coach Jill Ellis was paid less than several U.S. Soccer men’s coaches, including U-20 coach Tab Ramos.

The U.S. Women’s National Ice Hockey Team

Before winning a historic gold medal in the 2018 PyeongChang Olympic Games, the U.S. Women’s National Ice Hockey Team was battling off the ice for equal pay. In 2017, the team threatened to boycott the 2017 IIHF World Championships if a settlement was not made with USA Hockey for equal treatment to the men’s team. Per The New York Times, the women’s players were barely making living wages and were left out of pre-Olympic marketing plans despite their success on the ice.

Ahead of the 2017 IIHF World Championships, after a yearlong battle, USA Hockey conceded to many of the players demands. The team went on to earn the gold at the world championships, then captured its first Olympic gold in 20 years by defeating Team Canada in PyeongChang.

Of her team’s fight for equal treatment, star forward Hilary Knight said: “We’re passionately pursuing something for the greater good.”

WNBA Players

WNBA stars including A’ja Wilson, Brittney Griner, Liz Cambage and Skylar Diggins-Smith have all spoken out about WNBA salaries compared to their NBA counterparts. In order to make a living playing basketball, most WNBA players compete overseas during the offseason to supplement their WNBA income.

It is important to note that the WNBA athletes are not asking for the multimillion dollar contracts that are prevalent in the NBA; they are simply asking for equity. Where the NBA pays its players between 49-51 percent of the league’s revenue, WNBA players take home a maximum of 22.8 percent.

“As athletes, we have to fight. As women, we have to fight,” Diggins-Smith told Bleacher Report. “And we need more people at our table to fight with us,” she told Wealthsimple. “There need to be more women and more people of color hired so we can curate our own sports stories. And we need men speaking out about these things.”

Big Wave Surfers

In 2016, six female big wave surfers – Andrea Moller, Bianca Valenti, Keala Kennelly, Paige Alms, Karen Tynan and Sabrina Brennan – founded the Commission for Equity in Women’s Surfing (CEWS). The organization exists to increase “the number of events and the number of awards for women, as well as offering equal prize money … to achieve meaningful equity in competitive surfing.”

In 2018, much of CEWS’ work paid off, as the World Surf League announced equal prize money for all WSL-controlled events in 2019 and beyond, a huge step for what has been a traditionally male-dominated sport.

“”We feel strongly that if it hadn’t been for our consistent advocacy, the WSL would not have made that announcement,” Brennan told ESPN. “But we are so glad they did, and we’re thankful because they could have done less … But they did the right thing and did it across all of their events.”

Venus and Serena Williams

While all four of the major Grand Slam tennis tournaments have awarded men and women equal prize money since 2007 when Wimbledon finally evened its pay gap, the game’s biggest female stars have not held back when it comes to speaking out about equal pay.

As with so many other female athletes – and despite being two of the highest paid women athletes in the world – Venus and Serena recognize that they are fighting not only for themselves, but for the generations of women to come.

“We might not get it today, but we want a future better for maybe my daughter, or her daughter, and so that’s what we really are fighting for,” Serena told CNBC. “I feel like we’re getting there.”

Photo credit (from L to R):

Ethan Miller/Getty Images

Bruce Bennett/Getty Images

Julian Finney/Getty Images

Frederick Breedon/Getty Images

Pierre Tostee/Getty Images

NGWSD Reflections: How ice hockey led NCSA President Lisa Strasman forward

In honor of this year’s National Girls & Women in Sports Day (NGWSD) theme, Lead Her Forward, the Women’s Sports Foundation is highlighting how sport impacted women in their careers and in their lives. Lisa Strasman played ice hockey at Yale University and professionally in Switzerland. She is currently the President of Next College Student Athlete, and reached out to the Women’s Sports Foundation to share her story in recognition of NGWSD. 

“You are different. You don’t belong here.”

That’s what I was told at 9 years old one morning as I lined up on the blue line. My teammate Jimmy thought his comment would send me – the only girl on our hockey team – packing. Little did he know that to the contrary, it would light a fire that would last a lifetime.

As a female in a male-dominated sport, I faced my fair share of adversity. However, my immense passion for the game helped me overcome the setbacks. I worked hard and blocked out the naysayers by focusing on one goal – to play the game I loved. Over time, my ambitions became loftier – make the varsity boys team, become team captain, play at a top academic DI college.

Every time a girl picks up a bat, kicks a ball or laces up her skates, she unlocks an entire world of potential.

I was on a clear path and knew exactly what I had to do to reach my next objective. Study hard for the upcoming test because that grade will matter to college coaches. Avoid that party because there’s a high probability the night will end badly. Hockey not only gave me a path, it offered a safe arena to take out my aggression. It also provided lifelong friends and a unique identity.

My career at Next College Student Athlete (NCSA) is simply the next phase of the path Jimmy inspired me to take all those years ago. My Yale University degree and experience got me hired in an entry level role at NCSA, and it’s the grit and leadership skills I honed on the ice and in the locker room that enabled me to rapidly advance to an executive level position. Today, as President of NCSA, I lead a team of 750+ former college athletes and coaches. We work tirelessly to help the next generation of high school student-athletes achieve their dreams of playing the sport they love in college. Each year, we help tens of thousands of young women pursue their passions and get recruited for 16 NCAA sports. I hope someday my daughter will be one of them.

National Girls & Women in Sports Day shines a light on our goal and symbolizes a larger movement. Every time a girl picks up a bat, kicks a ball or laces up her skates, she unlocks an entire world of potential. Studies have shown that sports give girls a greater sense of confidence, physical and emotional strength, character and leadership ability. I am honored to help female student-athletes accomplish their athletic and academic goals through my work at NCSA and I’m thankful for all the other leaders who inspire girls and women to embrace their athleticism.

Thirty years ago, Jimmy told me I was different. He was right. Through sport I have forged my own unique path. As more girls find their athletic identities and develop the strength and tools to reach their goals, the world becomes a better place.


Title IX and the Rise of Female Athletes in America

Title IX states that, “No person in the United States shall, on the basis of sex, be excluded from participation in, be denied the benefits of, or be subjected to discrimination under any educational program or activity receiving Federal financial assistance.”

Let’s take a moment to break that down before we move forward. Title IX was established in 1972 to provide everyone with equal access to any program or activity that receives Federal financial assistance, including sports. This means that federally funded institutions, such as public schools, are legally required to provide girls and boys with equitable sports opportunities.

Before Title IX, one in 27 girls played sports. Today that number is two in five. While we still have far to go before every girl has equal access to sports, especially girls of color, it is clear that we are making headway. This summer at the 2016 Rio Olympics, the world watched as woman after woman broke barriers, shattered records and won titles across a multitude of sports.

From gymnastics and water polo, to basketball and swimming, it was clear the American women dominated the Olympic scene. There has been a steady increase in the participation of American women at the Olympics since the passage of Title IX and this summer we watched as hundreds of girls who benefited from this law made history.

In an article by the Los Angeles Times, former Women’s Sports Foundation (WSF) CEO Donna Lopiano attests to the change Title IX has generated in the United States by saying, “We give more opportunity to women in this country, and it’s not even close. You are seeing the effects of that in these Olympics.”

In another article, appropriately titled ‘Amazing things happen when you give female athletes the same funding as men,’ WSF’s first President, Donna de Varona, praises the effects of Title IX on women’s sports. “Since 1972, thanks to increased funding and institutional opportunities, there has been a 545% increase in the percentage of women playing college sports and a 990% increase in the percentage of women playing high school sport.”

Title IX is a terrific model for the rest of the world to follow as Lopiano notes in The New York Times: “We have the largest base of athletic development. Our women are going to dominate, not only because of their legal rights but because women in other parts of the world are discriminated against.” A very unfortunate, but true fact.

It is evident that the impact of Title IX is long-term and far-reaching. Now that the door is “open,” more women and girls are taking advantage of the opportunity to play sports and carrying the lessons they learn from sport far beyond the field of play. For the Women’s Sports Foundation this is essential to our mission of creating leaders by ensuring girls access to sports. Sports help girls find success on the field, in the classroom and in boardrooms across the country. Go Team USA! Go Title IX!