Shortly before the Women’s World Cup finals kicked off, Senate Minority Leader Chuck Schumer (D-N.Y.) gave a shout out to the U.S. soccer team. Schumer took it upon himself to complain about how much less the female players get paid, in numeric terms, 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,” Schumer 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.”
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.”
This is virtue signaling 101. In the United States, especially in politics, expressions of moral outrage play a prominent role. 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.
Now that the women have returned from France, triumphant and heroic, the calls for equal pay have never been as loud.
Shortly after Shumer’s performative plea, Jennifer Bendery, writing in the Huffington Post, 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.”
People like these believe that clear inequalities exist. After all, they argue, 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. Although the deal resulted in additional pay, it clearly wasn’t good enough.
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.”
In March of this year, The Los Angeles Times published a stinging op-ed that said: “The U.S. women’s soccer team outperforms the men’s team when it comes to victories, domestic viewership, name recognition and general awesomeness. Its members are stars, consistently ranked No. 1 in the world, and they make millions of dollars for their employer, the U.S. Soccer Federation.”
The op-ed goes on to discuss the aforementioned lawsuits and the reasons the ladies should be paid the same figures las the men. However, just like the other commentators, the article misses the point. Yes, the women are indeed “No. 1 in the world,” but they’re number one in women’s sports, which has far fewer fans and plays far fewer games.
Events like the World Cup and the Olympics come around every four years. The rest of the time, unlike many of the players on the men’s national time, many of whom play for elite clubs, the ladies are rarely in the limelight. The men are consistent cash cows, playing in front of huge crowds once, if not twice, a week. But this only scratches the surface of the quality differences between the two teams.
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 Bendery, two people clearly enraged by the so-called inequality, have ever attended a game in their lives.
One of the major factors 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. The total prize money for the Women’s World Cup in France this July was $30 million; the total prize money for the men’s 2022 World Cup in Qatar will be $440 million.
This gap is criminal, right? It’s not. When viewed objectively—based on how much money each competition generates—women actually make more than men. How so?
Well, there is a sizable difference in the revenue available to pay the male and female teams. According to Mike Oznian, a writer for Forbes, the 2015 Women’s World Cup “brought in almost $73 million, of which the players got 13%. The 2010 men’s World Cup in South Africa made almost $4 billion, of which 9% went to the players.”
Last year, the men’s World Cup in Russia generated more than $6 billion in revenue; the participating teams shared about $400 million. That is less than 7 percent of overall revenue. Meanwhile, the 2019 Women’s World Cup made somewhere in the region of $131 million, doling out $30 million, well more than 20 percent of collected revenue, to the participating teams. It seems a pay gap does exist, after all.
Lastly, men’s sports, especially men’s team sports, are inherently more entertaining to watch than women’s. Whether it happens to be men’s soccer or basketball, when compared with the female equivalent, the skill levels on show are incomparable.
In a 2015 article for The Atlantic, Field Zhukov wrote: “Women’s sports that are identical to men’s sports—soccer and basketball, for example—will never be popular, because men are faster, stronger and more athletic. On the other hand, sports that highlight the different strengths of female athletes—tennis, gymnastics, ice skating—are popular. None of those are team sports, so there may be something there.”
There is something there, most definitely. When you sit down and watch the intricate movement and passing of teams like Liverpool or Manchester City, you quickly realize that nothing like this exists within women’s soccer. This is not to say that supreme female athletes do not exist. Of course, someone like Serena Williams is clearly a fantastic athlete. Powerful and highly skilled, she is a genuinely gifted athlete.
However, 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,” said, “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. However, if people really want to have an honest conversation about earning disparities, then, instead of virtue signaling, how about attending some women’s games? After all, actions speak louder than words.