If you watched even an hour of the Olympics, you know that both male and female athletes attack their sport with equal passion, talent, and dedication. Both draw equal enthusiasm from fans, and both can be addictive to watch. Aside from the disproportionate amount of sexist comments female athletes endured, sounds pretty equal, right?
For two weeks (maybe) the playing field is (sort of) level. But the moment the athletes return home, this facade of equality evaporates: The sad reality is that male athletes still get paid way more than female competitors.
Most casual sports fans know that men are the top earners in professional sports. Forbes’ annual list of the 100 top paid athletes included only two women this year: Serena Williams (#40) and Maria Sharapova (#88). Why? Well, for most athletes, their earnings are based on a complex cocktail of variables including talent, popularity of their sport, and name recognition—as well as the subsequent sponsorship and endorsement deals to which these things can lead. For too many women, however, the system is rigged against them.
Perhaps most egregiously, women’s sports aren’t given close to the airtime as men’s sports. According to a 2015 study from the University of Southern California, ESPN’s SportsCenter devotes a mere 2% of airtime to women’s sports—and across the board, televised coverage of women’s sports hasn’t expanded in the last quarter century.
It's a frustrating cycle: Without giving audiences a taste of what women's sports can offer, networks receive less demand for coverage. Without coverage there is less name recognition, and without name recognition there are fewer sponsorships. Female athletes are told they are paid less because they bring in less, but they only bring in less because of, well, the patriarchy.
Thankfully, some female athletes are taking a stand. Earlier this year, five players from the champion United States Women’s National Soccer Team filed a lawsuit against the United States Soccer Federation demanding equal pay as their male counterparts—the first step on a long road to equality.
So before the incredible female athletes we just saw compete fade from our collective consciousness, let’s take a moment to look at the unjust circumstances that led these soccer stars to say enough is enough—and the similar circumstances that female cyclists and golfers face, too. While many, many other sports face similar pay gaps, I chose to focus on these three since the athletes’ compensation was a bit more transparent than in other sports.
The breakdowns below look only at straight pay—salaries, prize money, and performance bonuses that are tied directly to competition—leaving out more peripheral income like sponsorship earnings. When you compare what athletes put in minute-for-minute, sweat-for-sweat, you start to realize the true magnitude of the gender pay gap in sports.
Let’s begin with soccer, a sport in which the women brought in more money last year than men—but still got paid less than 40% of what their male counterparts make. Yes, this is some Olympic-sized bullshit.
In 2015, the U.S. women's national team turned a net profit of $6.6 million, whereas the men’s national team turned a measly $2.2 million. In 2016, the men are expected to lose money—around $1 million—whereas, again, the women are expected to make money.
At this summer's Olympics, the women made it to the quarter-finals, while the men didn’t even qualify to play. The women's team also holds the record for the most-watched soccer game in U.S. history, bringing in 23 million viewers for its stunning 2015 World Cup final. Baller status.
Despite the ladies’ clear superiority to their male counterparts, according to the lawsuit, players on the women's national team make about 38% of what the guys make. Not only that, but in three of the past four years, the women's team played more games overall—which means they're putting in more hours and still getting paid less.
The gap gets worse when you factor in game bonuses. The women earn a base annual salary—on average, $72,000—plus bonuses of $1,350 per game. But they only get their bonus if they win the game. Meanwhile, the men receive bonuses of $5,000 per game, whether they win, lose, or tie. They just have to show up.
As mentioned above, the case for women to be paid more in soccer is so glaring that several players filed a wage discrimination lawsuit earlier this year. Their plight even inspired Washington to get involved: Just this month, senators including Patty Murray, Diane Feinstein, and 20 others demanded the U.S. Soccer Federation fix the gap.
"Apparent pay disparities such as those between the men’s and women’s soccer teams send the wrong message to young women—and men—and have no place in the 21st century economy," wrote the senators in a letter to the U.S. Soccer Federation. Preach.
For their part, the U.S. Soccer Federation argues that men get paid more because they bring in more revenue over the course of each four-year World Cup cycle.
The lawsuit is still ongoing, but will hopefully tighten the gap, at the very least.
Cycling is another sport with a sizable gender pay gap, in part because of some seemingly arbitrary ways that women are shut out of competition. Cyclists get paid in several ways—team salaries, prize money, and performance bonuses—and women make substantially less than men in all three categories, even for the same race.
"People don't want to talk about it," says Anne-Marije Rook, a cyclist and writer for CyclingTips.com who has covered the sport’s pay gap extensively. "The average pay for a woman training full-time—20 to 40 hours per week—is $3,000 a year." Which is why even the best of the best cyclists have to work day jobs—the same way a struggling actor might. Take Olympian Mara Abbott, who just finished fourth in Rio in the women’s road race: She's said she works three days a week on an organic farm, and two days a week selling vegetables at the Boulder Farmers’ Market in Colorado to make ends meet.
Another reason why women can’t make a living from cycling alone is the prize money isn’t sustainable in the way it is for men. In 2014, the winner of the men's Giro d’Italia (a major race in Italy) took home $223,290. In contrast, the female winner of the Gira Rosa (the female version of the Giro d’Italia) took home $19,723. To be fair, the Giro d'Italia is a longer race than the Gira Rosa, and includes 21 stages compared to the Rosa’s nine. The fact that they're only eligible for the shorter race with the lower prize amount speaks to a bigger problem impacting pay discrepancy: Women simply don’t have the same monetary opportunities as men.
See, for cyclists to earn money, they don't have to win the whole race; they can also take home money at each stage of a race depending on where they place. So longer races—ones with more stages—create more opportunities for pay. Cyclists also earn money for being the fastest on a given day, so more days also equals more pay. Thus, a 21-stage men’s race offers way more prize money than the 9-stage female race.
Then there’s the Tour De France, cycling's most famous race. Ever wonder why you don't see a women's Tour De France? It's because it doesn't even exist. Instead, women get a one-day event called La Course by Le Tour De France, which consists of cycling 13 laps on the Champs-Élysées right before the men ride in on their twenty-first stage of the Tour De France. In other words, it’s an appetizer for the main course, and it drives nowhere near the amount of coverage, attention, or sponsorships as the men’s race. There are no stages to this race, which means there's no incremental earning potential, and the prize money for La Course is, again, way less than for the male event.
The overall discrepancy in cycling’s prize money has not gone completely unnoticed. Earlier this year, Union Cycliste Internationale, the organization that runs cycling's biggest professional events, including both the Giro d’Italia and Tour De France, announced that prize money would be altered so that women will get the same as men at the organization’s World Championship event. However, the event is just one race and the rule doesn't cover other races. It's progress, but not enough. Especially considering Union Cycliste Internationale failed to address the other pay gap in cycling: salaries.
See, if you're a man on a professional cycling team, you earn a minimum salary—that's the rule. You're a pro cyclist, after all. However, no such rule exists for women's pro-teams, so most professional female cyclists earn ZERO salary. The men’s minimum salary is around $47,000, and can go up from there depending on the demand of the athlete, the same way LeBron James gets a bigger NBA salary than some newbie.
Between women cyclists being denied higher caliber races, denied higher prizes, and denied minimum salary rules, they are woefully underexposed—which then, on top of everything, leads to fewer sponsorships. Sigh.
We’ll end by looking at a sport where women can earn a lot of money, but again, not nearly as much as their male counterparts: golf.
Earlier this year, golfer Lydia Ko won the Ladies Professional Golf Association’s All Nippon Airways Inspiration—one of five major golf championships held each year—netting $390,000 for her troubles. No small sum. However, these winnings pale in comparison to what men make for major tournaments. In 2015, after winning the Masters—which is one of the four major championships in men's golf—Jordan Speith took home $1.8 million. See the problem here?
The same discrepancy goes for the U.S. Open, another of the major golf championships that appears on both the Ladies Professional Golf Association Tour and the men’s Professional Golf Association Tour (though the LPGA and PGA Tour are separate organizations). As ESPN reported in 2015, the winner of the women’s tournament received $720,000, compared to the winner of the men’s tournament, who took home $1.8 million. In 2016, the women made a little progress: The winner took home $810,000, while the male winner still took home $1.8 million. One million dollar difference. No biggie.
Ko, who is the top earner on the LPGA’s tour, has earned $2,269,443 this year with four victories, and she just took home the silver medal in the women’s golf tournament in Rio, competing for New Zealand. Her male counterpart, Jason Day (the top men's earner), has netted $7,562,028 this year with only three victories—and had the luxury to opt out of the Olympics because Zika.
While no professional golfers are going hungry, the women are still getting shafted. As ESPN writer Max Saffer noted, the discrepancy in pay must mean a difference in talent right? Wrong. "By that logic the men surely must be twice as good," writes Saffer. "But take an average of the top 10 in scoring and in birdies on both tours you will find that the best men and the best women on the planet play the game equally."
So two people playing the same sport, at the same level, receive vastly different salaries. They also, inevitably, receive vastly different earnings from sponsorships: Ko made about $750,000 in endorsements in 2015, where as Speith made about $30 million.
To be fair, the men's PGA tour brings in more revenue than the women's LPGA tour—but again, this is largely due to exposure and sponsorships. It's not that women aren't as good at golf, or that people don't want to watch women's golf—the same premium just isn't put on women's golf.
So as we all continue to root for Lydia Ko, Mara Abbott, and the U.S. Women's National Soccer Team outside of Rio, just know they could make a gabillion times more money if they only had penises.
Taryn Hillin is Fusion's love and sex writer, with a large focus on the science of relationships. She also loves dogs, Bourbon barrel-aged beers and popcorn — not necessarily in that order.