Sports News Without Fear, Favor or Compromise
Sports News Without Fear, Favor or Compromise

Winning doesn’t change everything, ask Megan Rapinoe

Megan Rapinoe of the U.S. women’s national team, which draws better ratings and wins more than its male counterpart, but is paid less.
Megan Rapinoe of the U.S. women’s national team, which draws better ratings and wins more than its male counterpart, but is paid less.
Photo: Getty Images

“There is no level of status, and there is no accomplishment or power, that will protect you from the clutches of inequality. One cannot simply outperform inequality.” – Megan Rapinoe, testifying before the House Committee on Oversight and Reforms on March 24, Equal Pay Day

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In addition to minting gold medals, U.S. women’s national team player Megan Rapinoe and her teammates have become the poster children for the fact that winning doesn’t mean institutions and authorities have to concede anything to you.

The U.S. Women’s National Soccer Team (USWNT) is the most successful soccer team in international history. They routinely outrate the men in both television ratings and victories, and yet the team has had to sue U.S. Soccer over what it claims was unequal treatment and pay. Notable that the more successful of U.S. Soccer’s franchises was not asking the non-profit for more, but for the same as what the less successful men’s team was getting.

But like Rapinoe said, you can’t outperform inequality. On the women’s side, you have wins, fan interest and TV ratings. On the men’s side you have… well, men.

Asked if he could order equal pay for the women’s soccer team, President Biden answered, “ If I could, it would have been done a long time ago.”

Here’s to a Women’s History Month where history keeps repeating itself. While Rapinoe laid out an uncomfortable truth in the context of women’s soccer, over at the NCAA there is an independent investigation into the ridiculous inequities between how the men’s and women’s basketball players were treated in their respective tournament bubbles.

Not sure what there is to find in an investigation, when the institutional priorities have been laid bare. From the inequity in the gendered player swag bags, to the food, and the NCAA only using “March Madness” trademark for the men’s tournament when it has been registered for both.

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The larger takeaway is this: the NCAA put a five-layer chocolate-covered cake into the athlete experience for the men’s tournament bubble, while women got crumbs.

It’s a familiar story.

Equal Pay Day is meant to be a symbolic reminder of how much longer an average woman has to work to earn what her male counterpart did in the previous year. Black and Latino women have to work even longer than their white and Asian counterparts for the same annual paycheck. There is no fan base calling for equality on behalf of the women in the service industry and that’s too bad.

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Fans have been terrific agitators for parity. They chanted “Equal Pay!” on the USWNT earned gold in France during the 2019 World Cup. They helped Oregon’s Sedona Prince’s video mocking the women’s meager workout facilities in San Antonio go viral.

These unequal facilities aren’t about what the athletes have “earned.” Remember, this is ostensibly an amateur sporting event and the athletes aren’t supposed to be compensated according to their contributions. The NCAA wants to have it both ways. But in denying equitable facilities and equipment to the participants in the women’s tournament, it perpetuates the system of inequality.

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Soccer player Midge Purce addressed the lack of investment in women’s sports at the White House on Wednesday.

“The strength of unequal pay rests on the notion of unequal value...it is an issue of equity,” Purse said. “When men began sports leagues they were supported by billions in taxpayer subsidies, they were prioritized in the media and afforded time to grow... the investment was incredible and the return was incredible.

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“I have watched and joined a league of women, who are remarkable at their craft. And together we have asked for the same grace that was given to men in the formative years of their leagues...true investment,” Purce said.

It appears as though the men who have made decisions would rather leave money on the table than maximize potential of the women’s game. How else do you explain the byzantine broadcast contracts in soccer that combine the Women’s World Cup and Major League Soccer rights? Or a refusal to market the women with the trademark March Madness?

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If you broadcast it, they will watch. Ratings were up this year for the National Women’s Soccer League and the WNBA, while they fell for every men’s sport. The difference was that more women’s games were shown in the pandemic year.

What has also changed is that women like Rapinoe, Prince and Purce aren’t just going to smile politely about it anymore. You can see it on Prince’s face in the video; she knows she and her sisters are being disrespected with a pile of yoga mats and a pyramid of dumbbells. And fans don’t need an “independent investigation” to know it, too.

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Although the litigation with U.S. Soccer isn’t over, the USWNT has won a number of concessions in the meantime through settlements. And they have made the case to the public that women’s sports aren’t your charity cases, they are your new sports icons.