Facts Can’t Be Overlooked in Sports Gender Pay Gap Debate

Tuesday night, Bill Simmons released a new podcast with Abby Wambach in honor of her final game of her illustrious career for US Women’s Soccer.  One of the subjects that Wambach and Simmons touched on was the gender pay gap that exists in women’s sports, particularly in women’s soccer.  While nobody can deny that there is a ridiculous discrepancy between what men and women are paid in sports – let alone society in general – it’s important to note that people very rarely tell the whole side of the story in this discussion.  Even if your opinion stems from the perspective of “Women shouldn’t be treated as the inferior gender anymore,” which should be the starting point of your opinion if you’re anything close to a respectable human being, we can’t gloss over important facts that provide context to the issue, no matter how screwed up our world is or how much we want it to be different.

Wambach is not the first person whose commentary on the gender pay gap in sports that I’ve taken an issue with, either.  She’s just the most recent.  Wambach’s prime example of the pay gap was the fact that the women’s national team received a total of $2 million to split among all of the women on the team, while the German men’s team who won received a total of $35 million.  (Simmons misspoke by stating that the winning women’s and men’s teams earned $15 million and $576 million respectively, but those numbers represent the total amount that was dished out to all of the teams in each respective tournament.)  That seems ridiculous, doesn’t it?  The difference between the two numbers is staggering, and I have no problem with anyone who says that it’s way too much.  What I do have an issue with, however, is that Wambach – who stated many times that she plans to spend a lot of time trying to stamp out this social failing during her retirement – failed to mention a key piece of context: The winning women’s national team received 11% of sponsor revenue that the tournament earned, while the men’s winning team earned a total of 6.6% of sponsor revenue that their own World Cup earned.  (I have also seen a column stating that the women’s winning team earned 3.9% of total revenue to just .9% of the men’s, but that source is less credible than that of Business Insider and I haven’t been able to verify the women’s world cup total revenue statistic that he uses.) The percentage of any type of revenue that the players receive seems like it’s kinda important, no?

If there’s one thing that aggravates me more than anything about our dialogue as we close the book on 2015, it’s the persistent and supposedly end-all-be-all idea of “We need to start a conversation about ____.”  Do I want the gender pay gap in almost all industries in the world, sports included, to be talked about extensively?  Yes, obviously.  Do I think that tackling these issues collectively will help improve the deep-rooted negative aspects of our society?  Of course I do.  But I’ve often noticed that those who say something like “It’s important to have a healthy conversation about this issue” (as opposed to an unhealthy conversation, whatever that would mean) often overlook inherent and important facts – the kinds of facts that are 100% necessary for the “conversation” that we’re supposed to have to actually be beneficial.  “We need to have a serious conversation about this” usually means “My perspective is completely right, and anyone who disagrees doesn’t know anything, regardless of how much I checked my facts.”

That’s basically what we’re dealing with as it relates to the gender pay gap in sports.  People don’t care about taking a step back, getting all the facts in the discussion, and then moving forward to reach a conclusion.  The reason this issue really irks me is not because I care what the majority of sports fans think.  Frankly, sports fans are often kinda dumb when they try to form an opinion on a topic that combines sports and a societal issue.  But it’s when the media or someone like Wambach leaves out important details that I find infuriating.  More importantly, it makes me lose hope that we’ll soon be able to make a real improvement in this field.

Google “Men’s women’s compensation FIFA World Cup.”  Go ahead, do it.  In fact, just click this link, because I’ve already done it for you.  You’ll notice that the first 4 hits from Newsweek, Thinkprogress, NBC News, and CNN all have very leading titles and exactly zero points in the writing itself about the percentage of revenue that the players earned from their respective tournament.  Again, these websites might believe that there should be no gender pay gap at all despite the differences in tournament revenues, but they didn’t even include the most basic fact to explain why the other side of the argument. You call that journalism?

I can’t stress enough that my level of aggravation in this case doesn’t stem from those who disagree with me.  I think it’s possible to make a principled case that men and women should get paid the same number of dollars in the World Cup.  One reason that Wambach suggested, which I can see the logic behind, is that sports organizations have a societal duty to make up for the sexism that clearly causes at least a good portion of the discrepancy in interest between men’s and women’s soccer.  While I find idea that men’s and women’s World Cup teams should get paid the exact same to be irrational and narrow-minded because, ultimately, sports are a business and employees that bring back more revenue get paid more, such an argument is not incomprehensible.  But you know what is incomprehensible and abjectly inexcusable?  The fact that those who report or publicly analyze these societal debates don’t check the most basic and necessary facts.  We all agree that “an open and honest” conversation is the key to moving forward as a society with difficult topics, but Wambach’s talking points or the national media’s coverage of this story last July are nowhere near “open and honest.”  No matter how much you want this world to fix a terrible problem that it’s had since the beginning of time, you can’t lose sight of the crucial facts and important context in a situation as you form your opinion.  Society will never significantly move forward in that kind of environment.

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