In case you missed it, this past summer the US women’s national soccer team scored their way into history, becoming the first women’s team to win 3 World Cup Championships. In a thrilling final over Japan who beat them 4 years ago at the same stage, the women in white did more than just win a big ol’ metal cup. They made a huge statement about female athletes in general at a time when the discussion is becoming louder and louder.
Women becoming baseball, basketball and football coaches for men’s divisions in the US are breaking down gender barriers in a way we’ve never seen before. Athletes like Serena Williams and Ronda Rousey have brought attention to female sports on a stratospheric level that is normally reserved for the likes of David Beckham, Kobe Bryant, Tom Brady etc.
But there is still one huge elephant in the room when it comes to women’s sports that is coming to light in many ways lately. The gender pay gap. For all the pay gap deniers out there, there is nowhere it is more evident than in sports. And in the case of the USWNT’s 3rd World Cup Win, any excuse about merit goes out the window.
The final match between Japan shattered all soccer ratings in the US (that is both men’s and women’s soccer). Just over 25 million Americans tuned in to watch the US Women’s victory over Japan. Adding in the roughly 1.3 million watching on Telemundo — the largest-ever audience for a women’s soccer match on a Spanish-language network — the match attracted 26.7 million viewers.
But it can also draw comparisons to other more popular sports in the US to make the argument even more solid. Around the same time, Game 6 of the NBA finals peaked with a viewership of 23 million. And the 2014 World Series’ Game 7, which attracted 23.5 million viewers nationwide was still lower than the World Cup Final.
The US men’s national team has yet to win a World Cup Title, vs the women’s 3. So all these stats and facts should make them a shoe-in for a larger pay packet than the men, right? Wrong! The total pay for the women’s team for winning was $2 million, compared to $35 million which is what the men’s German national team was paid for winning the World Cup the year before. But it doesn’t end there. The total payout for women who won the World Cup was $15 million, and total payout for men was $576 million.
We’ll let that sink in for a moment while we move on to Abby Wambach herself, who was able to announce her retirement recently after winning the most prestigious title in professional soccer earlier this year. Abby is a double Olympic gold medalist, and she is currently the highest all-time goal scorer for the national team and holds the world record for international goals for both female and male soccer players with 184 goals.
At a recent appearance at the Fortune Most Powerful Women Next Gen Summit in San Francisco, when asked by an interviewer about these stats and how they make her feel, her answer was “pissed off”.
She was asked whether she was aware of just how big the pay gap was, and with a chuckle here’s what she said:
“Yeah! That’s my life! I’ve been living it for, well, 30 years, I’ve been playing the game,” she said.
While she may have ended her career on a professional high, personally there is some unfinished business she wants to take care of now that she no longer has to focus on any future tournaments.
“I started to reflect on my career and I started to get pissed because I looked at my counterparts across the aisle, and resumes aside, talking about the Ronaldos and Messis and Landon Donovans, they get to walk away from their sport battered and bruised and not have to worry about ‘what am I going to do next?’ ” she said.
With this at the top of mind, it has given her the impetus to fight for gender equality in soccer. Now that her on-field soccer identity is a thing of the past, she wants to fight for gender equality and says the time is right.
“There’s some sort of molecular energy pull that’s happening with powerful women, the energy it punched me in my face. And I just wanna say that enough is enough,” she said to rousing applause from the audience in attendance.
In the video below she also says part of the problem is that women have been letting it happen, meaning that if we stood up more and demanded change, it could very well happen. The one major sport where equal pay did become a reality after certain women stood up and campaign to be paid the same prize money as men is tennis. Venus Williams was one of the women who came together with WTA executives and since the summer of 2007, women have been getting paid the same as men at Wimbledon.
Now that she has ample time on her hands, Abby vows to come up with a tangible plan of attack to ensure women in soccer are afforded the same equality. And just to be clear, that’s equality, not “more than”, the way some may think when hearing about women fighting for gender equality.
“I’m not, like, male-hating. I believe we need them too. But the reality is that people are brought up thinking that women are inferior,” she said and when it comes to the world of women’s sport, that is unfortunately still very much the reality.
We need many more women to join Abby’s mission, as well as men, to change perceptions about gender limitations in sport. One man has already lent his influence to the fight, President Barack Obama who had some choice words to say about the USWNT when they came to the White House to be honored for their World Cup Win in October.
“This team taught all America’s children that “playing like a girl” means you’re a badass. Playing like a girl means being the best. It means drawing the largest TV audience for a soccer match — men or women’s — in American history,” he said in a speech.
But positive speeches aside, we need action. We have no doubt that if her on-field scoring abilities and accolades are anything to go by, Abby Wambach is going to be a force to be reckoned with when it comes to demolishing the pay gap in soccer. We certainly look forward to seeing more of her as she spends retirement championing the cause for women to be paid equally.
If the US can successfully implement a law like Title IX the 43-year-old federal law that largely prohibits gender discrimination in any educational programs that receive government funding which means when it comes to athletic opportunities girls start out on equal footing with boys, there is no reason this emphasis on equality cannot translate to professional sports. It is common knowledge that college athletic opportunities often lead to Olympic and professional league careers for many male and female athletes.
As these conversations about gender equality in all sports continue to grow, let us all be aware that we cannot be bystanders and expect someone else to change it. If we’re not fighting for an issue that is important to us, who will?
You can watch the full Fortune interview with Abby below: