Columns, Opinion

Modern Musings: Popularity has nothing to do with equal pay in women’s sports

The nutrition bar company LUNA Bar announced on April 2, National Equal Pay Day, it would make up the bonus pay disparity between the U.S. women’s and men’s soccer teams. The company pledged to pay every woman who qualifies for the U.S. World Cup team $31,250, the difference between what the women and men make in bonus money.

The announcement comes just a month after the U.S. Women’s National Team sued the U.S. Soccer Federation over allegations of unequal pay and unequal treatment when compared with the men’s team.

Though Clif Bar and Company, which owns LUNA Bar, meant well in pledging to compensate the USWNT, it could set a dangerous precedent for the future.

The Women’s World Cup is quickly approaching, and the lawsuit against the U.S. Soccer Federation may not be resolved by then. As such, the USWNT would probably never receive their bonus pay in time.

By leaving it up to an outside corporation to properly compensate the players with pay equal to the men’s team, we are relieving the U.S. Soccer Federation of their obligations. It lets them get away with treating the USWNT unfairly and unequally.

Some people like to claim that women’s soccer just isn’t as popular as men’s soccer — but at the end of the day, they are doing the same job and should receive, at the bare minimum, equal pay. To go even further, it seems clear the USWNT works harder than the men’s, given that they have been vastly more successful in recent years.

The men’s team failed to even qualify for the World Cup held in Russia last year while the Women’s World Cup final in 2015, which the United States won, was the most-watched soccer television event ever in the country. The team was able to attain this success despite unfair working conditions, such as being asked to play on artificial turf.

In the lawsuit, the USWNT alleges the U.S. Soccer Federation falls back on the claim that the women’s team isn’t as marketable as the men’s, which is how they rationalize not paying them equally.

The USWNT also argues the main reason the U.S. Soccer Federation was able to rake in a massive $17 million in 2016 was that the women won the World Cup and weren’t paid equally for their work.

Even the claim that the women aren’t marketable falls flat on its face. At the very barest minimum, the women’s team should be paid equally. But given their consistent results and the fact that they go much further in tournaments than the men’s team, they should be paid even more than the men.  

The argument that women athletes shouldn’t be paid equally because the men’s side of their sports is more popular, more marketable, better attended is an argument as old as time.

Women’s pay should not depend on their popularity. If they are ultimately completing the same job as men, they should be rewarded equally. If they reach the same stage of a tournament, they should receive the same pay.

Leaving it up to a nutrition bar company to make up the gender pay gap is absolutely ridiculous, and it relieves the pressure that should rightfully be placed on organizations like the U.S. Soccer Federation to do what’s truly right and fair.

Another problem, though, is there needs to be more women in power in these sports organizations — people who are actively looking out for the interests of female athletes. Muffet McGraw, the coach of the University of Notre Dame women’s basketball team, stressed the importance of women leadership in sports in a video that went viral recently.

“We don’t have enough female role models, we don’t have enough visible women leaders, we don’t have enough women in power,” McGraw said.

Women’s sports continue to grow more and more popular, and soon enough sports organizations will realize they can no longer fall back on the marketability argument and will be pressured to pay women fairly.

Athletes and sports fans alike should continue to hold these organizations accountable and urge them to put women in places of power. As nice as it is to have an outside company offer to pay women athletes fairly, it will never solve the problem or lead to concrete change.

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