Women's Soccer and the 'Wage Gap'

What people who genuinely want to fix "income disparity" can do.

Shortly before the U.S. women's soccer team's recent match against Thailand -- its first match in the FIFA Women’s World Cup -- Senate Minority Leader Chuck Schumer (D-N.Y.) gave a shout out to the team. He took it upon himself to remind everyone how much less the female players get paid than their male counterparts.

“The women make just as much of a sacrifice, put in just as much mental and physical energy, absorb just as much risk of injury as the men who play for our national team,” the senior United States Senator from New York said. “Yet, when you break it down, a women’s national soccer team player earns a base salary of $3,600 per game while a men’s player earns $5,000.”

Not finished there, an impassioned Schumer continued, “Discrimination is staring us all in the face. These women, who inspire our country with their poise, tenacity, skill and excellence every time they take the field, deserve to be fairly compensated.”

Welcome to Virtue Signaling 101. In the United Sates, especially within the world of politics, expressions of moral outrage play a prominent role in contemporary debates. This sort of feigned righteousness is clearly intended to make the speaker appear morally superior. Schumer’s exaggerated feelings of outrage are clearly strategic. It’s reasonable to ask, whenever someone is expressing indignation, "Is he genuinely outraged or just virtue signaling?" Schumer is clearly signaling.

Jennifer Bendery, writing in the Huffington Post, the virtue signalers digest, also decided to weigh in:

Female soccer players earn a much smaller bonus in the World Cup ($15,000) than male players ($55,000). And here’s a stark comparison: the U.S. Soccer Federation awarded the men’s team a $5.4 million bonus after losing in Round 16 of the 2014 World Cup. It awarded the women’s team $1.7 million when it won the entire 2015 tournament.

The likes of Brodery argue that clear inequalities exist. After all, they say, the U.S. women’s national team has been ridiculously successful: three World Cup titles and four Olympic gold medals. This is the most successful team ever to play women’s soccer. Nevertheless, as Brodery notes, “it has been fighting for equal pay for years.”

Clearly incensed, the writer goes on discuss an incident from 2016, where five prominent members of the team filed a complaint with the Equal Employment Opportunity Commission.

The women alleged that the U.S. Soccer Federation was sexist, hence the reason for the pay disparity.  In 2017, they signed a new collective bargaining agreement. The deal got them some additional pay but still failed to hit the lucrative heights enjoyed by the men.

Three months ago, on International Women’s Day, as Brodery notes, “28 members of the team filed a lawsuit accusing U.S. Soccer of institutionalized gender discrimination, a violation of both the Equal Pay Act and the Civil Rights Act. It looks like they’re heading to trial next year.”

If they do head to trial, I, for one, hope the women lose. Is it because I’m a fervent sexist? No, absolutely not. It’s because I, like millions of other who have actually studied the game of soccer, who actually understand the ‘mechanics’ of the game, know why the pay gap exists. Let me lay them out:

Firstly, many of the people complaining about the pay gap are actually part of the problem. How many of these critics have actually attended a women's professional soccer game? I would be interested to know if Schumer or Brodery, two people clearly enraged by the so-called inequality, have ever attended a game in their lives.

One of the major reasons that separate men’s sports and women's is a not so little thing called revenue. To put it bluntly, female soccer players, just like female basketball players and female hockey players, are paid less because their respective sports make less.

In 2015, there was $17 million in sponsor revenue for the women's World Cup. Contrast this with the $529 million in revenue amassed for the 2014 men's tournament.

As Shane Ferro, a writer for Business Insider, noted back in 2015, “The real question is not why female athletes are paid less. People should be asking why fans and sponsors are less interested in supporting women's sports — and this is what they should be outraged about.”

But, one could argue, there may very well be little reason to be outraged. Could it just be that men's sports, especially men’s team sports, are inherently more interesting to watch than women's? Whether it happens to be men’s soccer or basketball, when compared with the female equivalent, are the skill levels on display comparable or incomparable? A question must be posed to those who would argue that they are comparable: can you provide the female equivalent of a LeBron James or a Lionel Messi?

All of this is not to say that supreme female athletes do not exist. Of course they do. Clearly, someone like Serena Williams is a fantastic athlete. Powerful and highly skilled, she is a genuinely gifted athlete.

But even Serena realizes the fact that men, in general, are better athletes, and certainly more compelling to watch.

Despite having won 23 Grand Slam titles, Williams, in a 2013 appearance on Late Night With David Letterman, had this to say:

For me, men’s’ tennis and women’s’ tennis are completely, almost, two separate sports. . . .If I was to play Andy Murray [then one of the best players in the world], I would lose 6-0, 6-0 in five to six minutes, maybe 10 minutes.”

We can debate the qualities of men’s sports and women’s sports all day and still clash heads. But in the end, if people really genuinely want to fix the "income disparity," then, instead of virtue signaling, they should go out and buy some merchandise. Or, if that is of little interest, how about purchasing tickets for a game? After all, actions speak louder than vacuous words.

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