An average of just under 19 million people in the U.S. watched the games of the 2017 World Series this month.While the men of Major League Baseball (MLB) drew huge crowds, the women of the National Pro Fastpitch softball league (NPF) had less than 1,000 spectators by the end of their 2016 championship game. Despite being some of the top athletes in the country, the women of the NPF have gone largely unrecognized. Because women’s athletic accomplishments are systematically dismissed or discounted due to their perceived inferiority to their male counterparts, funding for professional women’s leagues is very hard to come by. Without the financial means to foster women’s teams, women’s athletic accomplishments will continue to be overlooked.
Almost anyone who is familiar with the NPF will tell you that their athletes are world class and that the games are often even more competitive, entertaining and fast paced than the much more widely recognized MLB games. This is due in part to the fact that the plates in the NPF are closer together, meaning that even an infield ground ball can result in a hit if the player is fast enough. Still, despite the sheer athletic talent and entertainment value that these games possess, the athletes are grossly underpaid. According to USA Today, the average annual salary for a single MLB player in 2017 is $4.47 million. Conversely, the NPF has a salary cap of $150,000 for the entire team, meaning that each player makes less than $6,000 per season.
Last year marked a historic step forward for the NPF because one team signed a one million dollar, six-year contract with Monica Abbott, who is, according to many sources, “empirically the best pitcher in the world.” While this contract is a step in the right direction, it is also a staggering representation of how far we still have to go. It is simply unacceptable that the best female pitcher in the world is paid less than $200,000 per season while the average MLB player makes 25 times that amount.
While the NPF league is a prime example of the huge discrepancy that exists between the pay of male and female athletes, this undervaluing of women’s athletic achievements spans almost the entire array of athletic competitions. The average Women’s National Basketball Association (WNBA) player makes only $75,000 while the National Basketball Association’s players make over 60 times that amount.
Another example is the U.S. women’s national soccer team. This team is somewhat of an anomaly since it actually performs empirically better and is more widely known than its male counterpart. The men’s team has not advanced past the World Cup quarterfinals since the 1930s, and this past October, they failed to even qualify for the upcoming World Cup. However just two years ago, the women’s team won its third World Cup title. Additionally, in early 2017 the women’s national team was projected to bring in $5.2 million dollars in profit, while the men’s team is expected to run a deficit of $1 million. Despite the fact that the women’s team is outperforming the men and bringing in more revenue, the men’s team still got paid approximately four times more than their more successful female counterparts in 2015. Last year, a few prominent players, including Hope Solo, Megan Rapinoe, Carli Lloyd and Alex Morgan, filed a complaint with the federal government under the Equal Employment Opportunity Commission for this pay issue. The courts eventually sided with the U.S. Soccer Federation (USSF), resulting in continued negotiations between the team and the USSF.
The accomplishments of female athletes are constantly dismissed, and even when they obtain some of the recognition they deserve as in the case of the U.S. women’s soccer team, their talents are not reflected in their pay checks. With the salary of female athletes being what it is, women are greatly discouraged from pursuing professional athletics. In many cases, such as the NPF, even if these women are among the best athletes in the world, they have to take on a second career to support themselves.