After the U.S. Women’s National Hockey team vowed to boycott the International Ice Hockey Federation World Championship games in protest of fair pay, the team came to an agreement with USA Hockey, ensuring better pay and the same benefits as men. Although the team came to a deal, I learned a lot more about the wage gap in professional sports.
Jennie Finch, retired pitcher for the Chicago Bandits, said she was excited and proud the U.S. Women’s hockey team made itself vulnerable given the high stakes of the situation: their careers.
“I have a ton of respect for the players on that team and their willingness to put themselves on the line so future generations of players could benefit,” Finch said. “Labor issues in sports at many different levels are real and part of a long history.”
Take MLB and National Pro Fastpitch for example. Guys in the MLB make millions. There is debate going on right now whether Manny Machado or Bryce Harper deserve the MLB’s first $400 million contract. Why so much money?
Los Angeles Dodger Clayton Kershaw, arguably one of the best pitchers in the MLB, is currently on a seven-year $215 million contract, earning about $32 million a year. Now, Monica Abbott, pitcher for the Scrap Yard Dawgs, is the highest paid athlete in the NPF. She is on a six-year $1 million contract earning around $166K a year. Both are pitchers, both are one the best in their leagues, but one is making $214 million more than the other.
UTA Softball head coach Kristie Fox played in the NPF for three years as a second baseman for the Chicago Bandits and said it’s difficult to make it by without endorsements.
“I played in the league for three years, and you can’t make a living that way unless you can get really good sponsorships,” she said. “Even when softball was in the Olympics, it was difficult to get those sponsorships.”
After winning the 2014 FIFA World Cup, the U.S. Women’s National team took home $2 million, while the German men’s team received $35 million. The U.S. men’s team, which placed 11th, even collected more than the women’s team. In basketball, the wage difference is even worse, as the average salary in the WNBA is $72,000 compared to the NBA’s $4.5 million.
I’m not trying to pin blame or bash anyone, because I know media contracts, ads and viewership factor into these numbers. In sports like tennis and UFC, women are right at the top of the tier with men because of those media contracts and pay-per-view bouts. Leagues like the WNBA and NPF are progressing with the spread of awareness about their leagues, but it’s happening very slowly. I want to live in a day where I don’t have to explain to someone that professional softball exists.
The U.S. women’s hockey team made history, and they did a darn good job of going out of their way to get what they deserve. Now, the million-dollar question is: Will female athletes receive more recognition, or will things remain the same?