A look into just a few of the female athletes today who are breaking down the gender barriers present in sports.
By Mark Molz
The world of sports has long been geared toward benefitting the male athletes, but as time has progressed many women have contested the inequalities present in the sports culture.
When I initially think of female athletes, one of the most influential that comes to mind is Billie Jean King. King paved the way for equal pay in both mens and womens professional tennis and is a dominant figure in the history of sports. King was influential in the fight for equality and representation of women. Back in 2009, former President Barack Obama awarded King the Presidential Medal of Freedom for “her advocacy work on behalf of women and the LGBTQ community.”
As King was fighting in a time where it might’ve not been deemed “acceptable” to stand up for her beliefs, she has paved the way for many other female athletes today. We have seen dominant figures such as Serena Williams, Megan Rapinoe, Skylar Diggins-Smith, and even companies like Adidas, confront the inequalities that have long been attached to the hip of sports culture.
Serena Williams has vowed to never stop fighting for gender equality in sports. In 2016 she wrote an open letter for Porter Magazine's Incredible Women of 2016 issue and in the letter stated, “People call me one of the ‘world’s greatest female athletes.’ Do they say LeBron is one of the world’s best male athletes? Is Tiger? Federer? Why not? They are certainly not female. We should never let this go unchallenged. We should always be judged by our achievements, not by our gender.”
This year Williams has partnered with the brand Secret to launch a campaign exploring the gender bias in sports. She is using her platform to explore the issues present in the high-school level, all they way up to her professional status. Williams and the brand Secret are teaming up to commit themselves to making a change.
Williams stated, “It’s very important to me that I use my platform to bring attention to the many issues faced by women in sports and to call for meaningful change.”
USWNT star Megan Rapinoe is another athlete who uses her voice in hope of generating a more inclusive world of sports. The USWNT, a FIFA powerhouse, has long took their stance on equal pay. In 2019 Rapinoe, among others, led a charge in filing a lawsuit against the U.S. Soccer Federation addressing the pay discrimination that is overwhelming present. Just recently Rapinoe made a public statement saying it is “disgraceful” that the storied club of Manchester United in the Premier League has just recently dedicated money towards a women’s club in their extremely wealthy organization.
Rapinoe has long spoken out about equality, the LGBTQ community, and racism in sports and has always been confident in using her voice. In 2016 she was one of the first athletes to talk a knee along side Colin Kaepernick in the Black Lives Matter Movement.
On one of her latest instagram posts Rapinoe commented, “Fight like hell for what you believe in, for people, never back down, be brave and courageous, be kind, look people in the eye, don’t look away from pain.”
According to reports, NBA players receive up to 50% of the leagues revenue while WNBA players only enjoy a mere 20% of what the league produces. NBA players are able to make money from jersey sales and their base pay is just below a million dollars, while the WNBA and their athletes have never been able to see nearly the same benefits. Many WNBA stars would have to play overseas in the offseason to balance out the little pay they receive in the states. Diggins-Smith has spoken out on the massive wage-gap between the two leagues and has pushed towards a more fair pay for WNBA players.
Diggins has been vocal about how the WNBA players salary caps out at around $115,000 which is significantly less than NBA and their lowest paid players. She has been known to publicly criticize players, ESPN, and more to get her point across, stating ESPN would rather show “everything Lebron James ate before they show a highlight of a WNBA game.”
Her criticism on the disparities between men and women's pay is critical. Without her the issues regarding gender equality often get swept under the rug. She is paving the way for future generations of women in sports to make a salary they deserve and her hard work is beginning to pay off. Thanks to the efforts of Diggin’s and others, this past year the WNBA agreed to a new Collective Bargaining Agreement increasing pay up to 53% for the players.
In an AD released in 2018, Skylar Diggins-Smith is able to highlight the pay inequity between men and women (linked below).
In 2019 Adidas launched their campaign to equally represent women in the media. According to their report women in sports only make up about 4% of the media coverage. As a part of their commitment Adidas vowed to; boost visibility of female athletes in sports media through the partnership with Twitter, work with and within local communities to remove barriers to sport at their roots, and collaborate with women’s sports organizations to drive equality, from grassroots to elite.
They have also released a film that pushes to find female sports in media and open visibility of female athletes. The film features USWNT defender Becky Sauerbrunn, world record holder Keni Harrison (100m hurdles), Maria Taylor; a host/reporter for ESPN, WNBA point guard Layshia Clarendon, and marathon runner Rahaf Khatib.
Here we have a few examples of individuals and companies working to break down barriers, fight for visibility and equality, and bring to light the unfair gender equity between men and women. Without women in and outside of sports projecting their voices, issues such as these can often be looked over. But, it should not just be female athletes advocating for change, we all need to come together and fight for a more inclusive world of sports.
For more information regarding the research of this article please visit the links below.
Madison Sciba '24,