Supporting youth sports is crucial for overcoming gender inequity in athletics, U.S. Women’s National Team player Mallory Pugh said at a Lecture Fund event Oct. 9.
The event, “Women In Sports: With Mallory Pugh and Christine Brennan,” also featured USA Today sports columnist Christine Brennan, who joined Pugh to discuss the state of gender equality in professional sports leagues. The Caravel, Georgetown University Women in Leadership and Hoya Blue co-sponsored the event in Copley Formal Lounge.
The event was moderated by Catherine Hill, executive director of the Women’s Legislators of Maryland, a bipartisan caucus that advocates for women’s issues.
Remedying gender inequity in the sports world begins with supporting developing athletes, according to Pugh, who also plays for the Washington Spirit.
“We’ve got to invest in the youth to build into this pro environment,” Pugh said. “I think the more you invest in us, the more you’re going to see and get results.”
Brennan agreed that encouraging girls’ and young women’s participation in sports is essential to promoting gender equity in the future.
“It is about growing your gain. It is about bringing young children into the sport,” Brennan said. “And, frankly, it is about making sure the underserved gender is given even more incentive than ever to join that sport.”
In March, members of the U.S. Women’s National Soccer Team filed a federal class-action lawsuit against the U.S. Soccer Federation alleging they are consistently paid less than the men’s team despite a much stronger performance record.
If both the men’s and women’s soccer teams played 20 exhibition games in a year, a top-tier women’s national team player would earn $164,320 less than a men’s national team player, according to the lawsuit.
Such pay inequity expands to sports beyond soccer, according to Hill.
“In the athletic world, the gaps are enormous,” Hill said. “They’re not a question of percentage. They’re a question of how many times more.”
The world’s 100 highest-paid athletes are all male. Within certain sports, there are vast discrepancies in pay for men and women: the top Women’s National Basketball Association salary was $117,500 last season, compared with the top salary of $37.4 million in the National Basketball Association, according to Forbes.
Women’s professional sports leagues historically have trailed behind their male counterparts in viewership, which has led to lower wages for players and fewer opportunities for premier female athletes to grow, Brennan said.
“That is an issue, I think, of pure capitalism. The NBA is a for-profit league. The WNBA is for-profit,” Brennan said. “I think everyone would like to see them make more money, but there is an issue there of what the market wants.”
In recent years, however, there has been a strong trend showing rising interest in women’s sports content, according to a 2018 Nielsen study on women’s sports engagement.
Brennan was the first woman sports writer at The Miami Herald in 1981 and the first woman to cover Washington, D.C.’s NFL team as a staff writer at The Washington Post in 1985, according to her website.
Women should not be dissuaded from pursuing a career in traditionally male-dominated fields, Brennan said.
“No one was going to stop me from doing what I loved,” Brennan said. “That is my number one piece of advice for each and every one of you.”
Although there is still progress to be made, the strides that the United States has made toward gender equality in athletics over the past generation and a half should be celebrated, according to Brennan.
“This has happened really in the blink of an eye in our nation’s history, and we should celebrate this,” Brennan said. “It’s an extraordinary change. Things don’t usually happen this fast.”