Kareem Adbul-Jabbar opens the conversation:
The easiest way to determine women’s value to their culture is to look at how much we pay them in relation to men. Some studies suggest that in general women make less doing the same jobs as men (the Census Bureau concludes that women earn 77 cents for every dollar men earn). This national trend extends to professional sports. According to Forbes, the maximum salary for a player in the WNBA is $107,000, compared to the $30.5 million Kobe Bryant will make. Inbee Park, who won the 2013 U.S. Open in golf, received $585,000 for her victory. Justin Rose, the men’s winner, received $1.4 million. This disparity is seen less in tennis because England’s Wimbledon, the French Open, and the U.S. Open all pay men and women winners equally (which is why of the 10 top-paid female athletes in the world, seven of them are tennis players).
This discrepancy extends to coaching as well. For Division I college sports, men get paid significantly more. Male basketball head coaches averaged $71,511, while women coaches averaged $39,177. Even in gymnastics, which is predominantly female, the men coaches are paid more. This doesn’t even address the fact that there are more opportunities for males than females to play sports, both as amateurs and professionals.
Many will argue that the pay difference is the result of free market supply and demand. More people want to see men play professional basketball than want to see women play, so the players are paid accordingly. You can’t argue economics. There is truth to this. You can’t force people to attend a sporting event if they don’t want to.
However, this is something of a self-fulfilling prophecy. We can change things. First, we need to address why they don’t want to watch. This goes back to cultural biases. If we don’t value girls’ sports in middle school and high school, then we don’t grow up to value them as professional athletes. And by value, I mean make athletic opportunities available, pay coaches equally, and promote female sports with the same vigor as we do male sports.