The Unequal Fortunes of Professional Women Soccer Players
We’ve all heard of Title IX — the landmark legislation combating sex discrimination in education. June 23 marks the anniversary of this law that has made significant strides in, among other things, leveling the playing field for college women across the country by providing greater opportunities for female athletes (though disparities in athletic program budgets and coaching pay persist).
By strengthening women’s collegiate athletic programs, Title IX provided professional teams across the athletic spectrum with a burgeoning population of talented athletes to expand their ranks. Finally, women were able to compete on a platform equal to that of their male counterparts.
But what of our country’s professional athletes now? With the 2015 FIFA Women’s World Cup well underway, it is increasingly clear that expanded opportunities for female athletes have not translated into greater gender equity throughout the professional sports world. While the minimum salary for athletes in the MLS, the highest-level men’s soccer league, is $60,000 (up from $36,500 in 2014), salaries in the women’s equivalent, the NWSL, range from a paltry $6,842 to $37,800 at the cap. Many athletes must supplement their grueling training schedules with second jobs to make ends meet; all too often young, healthy, talented athletes retire from professional sports, forced to choose between a fulfilling career and a living wage.
Salaries for the U.S. Women’s National Team have somewhat improved: Abby Wambach, a 14-year veteran of the team and highest goal scorer on record (for women as well as men), received $190,000 in 2014. This number would thrill most female soccer players, but its luster fades when compared with U.S. National Team Captain Clint Dempsey’s annual earnings of $6.7 million. Ironically, the female athletes who came of age during Title IX’s development have hit a new glass ceiling.
If these statistics aren’t concerning enough, consider this: Prize money for the winners of the women’s tournament this year is set at $2 million, up from $1 million in 2011. Great news, right? The pot has doubled since the last competition! However, in 2014, FIFA doled out $576 million in prize money for the men’s tournament, with a full $35 million set aside for the winners. And with top FIFA officials calling the fight for equal pay “nonsense,” female professional athletes are facing an uphill battle.
In spite of these odds, professional women’s soccer is growing in popularity. Viewership during the second group-stage match between the United States and Sweden was up 137 percent from the same stage in 2011; this year’s United States-Nigeria competition boasted the third-highest audience in the women’s tournament’s history, exceeded only by the final matches in 1991 and 1999.
So how can you help? Here are three steps to promote the conversation about women in sports:
1. Watch the World Cup!
The U.S. women are contenders for the trophy, hoping to add to World Cup wins in 1991 and 1999, as well as numerous Olympic medals. And with household icons Abby Wambach, Alex Morgan, and Sydney Leroux going up against international stars like Germany’s Nadine Angerer and Japan’s Homare Sawa, the competition will be fierce.
2. Become a Title IX advocate.
By communicating with schools about the importance of Title IX coordinators, sharing our video, or writing letters to the editor, you can help protect education and sports programs for students across the nation.
3. Support girls’ and women’s teams.
Attend sporting events, coach a team, and request media coverage from your local newspaper and TV stations.
This post was written by AAUW Program Assistant Catherine Kuerbitz.