Unequal Pay In Female Athletics 


Caitlin Clark at the University of Iowa. Photo: Wikimedia Commons (CC BY-SA 2.0)

While there has been an increase in interest in women’s sports, particularly women’s college basketball, which has recently eclipsed men’s college basketball in terms of viewership, it is important to remember that female athletes have long been advocating for equal compensation. There has been discrimination against female athletes from the beginning of women’s sports, from young women sports teams to the NCAA and professional teams, but the most obvious example of this discrimination has been in the form of wage and pay gaps.

Pay disparities are a persistent problem in women’s sports and have long been criticized. One of the most recent examples of this is in the WNBA and NCAA, where rising star Caitlin Clark recently joined the WNBA and has not stopped talking about the unfair pay disparities and the difference between her college compensation and what the Indiana Fever, a WNBA team, has offered her. Clark’s all-around skill is highly renowned across the nation, particularly her shooting, which attracted numerous sponsors and media attention. Even though she has received a lot of publicity, as it became known that she had signed a contract for the base salary of $76,535 from the Indiana Fever, people began to raise questions about her compensation. Fans have begun to wonder whether she will be earning more for sponsorships in the WNBA than when she played at the University of Iowa. Caitlin Clark and other female athletes are receiving such low pay that many women, especially in basketball, have chosen to stay in college as long as they can because they are receiving higher pay through sponsorships than in the WNBA. This is an important example of how female athletes’ pay grades are changing depending on when and where they are playing. Many WNBA players are leaving the league to play abroad since their earnings are higher overseas than they are in the United States. Not just American professional female athletes, but also players from all across the world are speaking out about women’s pay disparities; Caitlin Clark is not the only female athlete championing this cause. 

Nia Stewart, a high school freshman, collected data regarding women’s wages and reflected on how “we” in the community may draw attention to these problems. One of the most important aspects of this fight is for pay and justice in the youth and professional sports.  

A ninth-grade athlete, Stewert conducted a study titled “Investigating gender inequalities in sports,” which included data and information analyzing the problems with compensation in women’s sports. In her report, she writes about her personal experiences with and observations of gender discrimination during her years as a competitive track and basketball player that have impacted both her and her teammates.  Stewart also undertook an initiative to support others in raising their voices against these problems. Reactions to these problems are typically minimized and disregarded. In addition to speaking out on social media, Stewert says that we can help bring attention to this inequity by volunteering and organizing fundraisers, which can be a terrific way to donate money to organizations that support women’s sports.

A number of these pay disparity issues have begun to change. For instance, in 2020, the WNBA and NBA implemented a collective bargaining agreement (CBA) that increased WNBA players’ revenue share from 20% to 50%, matching what NBA players were already receiving. Additionally, it resulted in a 3% wage increase per season. Cathy Engelbert, the Commissioner, said, “I want to thank the players, led by WNBPA President Nneka Ogwumike and the WNBPA Executive Committee, as well as WNBPA Executive Director Terri Jackson, for their hard work, innovative thinking, and professionalism throughout the process (collective)”. The CBA was discussed by many athletes. This deal is small but has a big impact for these athletes who have been advocating for the longest time for a change in this system.”

But, even if this was a positive start toward giving female players equal compensation, it is still insufficient. Since women have been allowed to participate in sports, there has always been discrimination against them on many levels, starting when they are very young.  This discrimination is also mainly shown in money. 

Colleges have been prohibited from compensating athletes because of NCAA and NIL (Name, Image, and Likeness) regulations though this will change next year for some atheltic conferences. But most athletes will still have to rely primarily on sponsorships and the commercial use of their identities. And even though women’s wage discrimination in sports has received a lot more attention in the last ten years, many active women in sports have also experienced gender prejudice directly. Naturally, this has an impact on women who want to play sports, since a lot of young women give up on sports in high school due to discrimination-related difficulties including low confidence. Now, a growing number of young female athletes are staying in the game after college, and as a result, many young people are better informed about concerns related to salary and how it will impact them going forward in their athletic careers. 

When we think about it, throughout history, sports have been one of the most viewed forms of entertainment in every part of the world. Sports are something that people can connect with and are everywhere.  Prominent players are acknowledged on their platforms, where they are unrestricted in their speech. Though the CBA was a significant change in the WNBA, there are so many examples of change that were created by female athletes themselves. Nia Stewart and Cailtlin Clark are just examples of change that can be produced whether people have a platform or not.

The amount of sexism in sports and unequal pay is too frequently overlooked. If we compare the pay of a woman’s salary to a man’s salary, both having the same positions and ranks in their sport, we will see a scary gap. Every sport might have its own different way of paying their players and different agreements but the one thing they all have in common is the gap of inequality between genders. 

Niyama Adadevoh is a rising senior at Amherst Regional High School.

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