Women Struggling to Score Big in the NWSL

Women's soccer players strive to receive equal pay and attention

Amanda Chan, Staff writer

2655415_big-lndPhoto courtesy Stanford Athletics
As summer rolls around each year, a handful of women in their 20’s contemplate entering retirement. This is a tough decision that takes time to make—whether or not to hang up your cleats and walk away from the dream job that you have worked countless hours for.

It is hard to believe that the same America which legalized same-sex marriage has also continually struggled with treating all its citizens with the equality that America so famously promises. It has been 96 years since women have gained the right to vote. They have been fighting an uphill battle ever since to earn the basic rights that men are so freely given.

The ongoing gender equality campaigns such as actress Emma Watson’s #HeForShe movement reinforce the impression that men and women are being treated on the same level on a regular basis. Many celebrities are speaking and advocating for gender equality, and yet we seem to be moving forward at such a sluggish pace because it takes time to change the unjust principles that have plagued the United States for years. Each day across America, women are suffering the consequences of still making less than their male counterpart in the same occupation.


Breaking into soccer

Names of male athletes are constantly splattered across the news for making exorbitant and unreasonable amounts of money. But only male athletes.

The past few years have seen a rise in professional women’s sport leagues, but few have reached the height and fame that men’s sports so easily thrive in. The U.S. Women’s National Team for soccer is often regarded as one of the top-performing sports teams in the nation. Despite their success, the salaries that women players receive is still leaps and bounds under the mountains of money that men players are raking in.

The average attendance for a Major League Soccer game for the 2014 season was 19,151 whereas the National Women’s Soccer League managed only 4,139 per game. Because men’s soccer has a larger fanbase, they are able to land many more sponsors than women’s soccer.

The highest paid player in the National Women’s Soccer League is set to make about $22,000 less than the lowest paid player in Major League Soccer for the upcoming 2015 season. The minimum salary for the NWSL is a meager $6,842 while the minimum for the MLS is $60,000. Yael Averbuch, a professional soccer player for F.C. Kansas City, is entering her 7th year in the NWSL. She has experienced the process and effects of choosing the love for her sport and receiving a salary that is surprisingly low.

“It’s not the most stable profession,” Averbuch said. “We definitely do it more for the love of the game than to get famous or make a lot of money.”

The underlying cause for the salaries which are barely high enough for most women’s soccer players to scrape by is not just a clear-cut problem which lies in the fault high-ranked owners of the teams. Athlete salaries depend on the revenue the teams generate through sponsors, tickets, and merchandise sales. The NWSL does not receive the same level of attention and interest from the public that the MLS does, and so they can’t afford to raise the player salaries.

Maggie Mertens, writer for The Atlantic, shares opinion on media's role in sports
Chris Bodenner, The Atlantic
Maggie Mertens, writer for The Atlantic, shares opinion on media’s role in sports

“First of all the men’s league has been around longer and male athletes in general receive more support and more interest, so there’s that,” Averbuch said. “And I think if there are more fans coming to men’s games and teams are bringing in more money, they’re able to pay their players more.”


Love for the game or reality?

The gender wage gap in soccer creates a dilemma for the players that few except for NWSL fans are aware of. Unlike other sports such as basketball, football, and baseball, where playing several years will leave you financially stable, women’s soccer is not a lasting profession for the average player. Many young players are faced with the difficult decision between playing professional soccer and retiring years before reaching their prime to pursue a more dependable profession. There have been multiple cases in the past couple years where talented and young players—ages 22, 23, 25 and 26, with large potential and high hopes, had walked away from the sport they invested so many years into because professional women’s soccer isn’t seen as a feasible career option. It’s just too little money to justify.

Jazmine Reeves, 23, played just one season with the Boston Breakers before retiring and taking on a job at Amazon. Reeves knew she had a decision to make as she began her first season playing professional soccer.

“Unfortunately, after thinking about what would be best for my future, financially and emotionally, I decided to pursue my career outside of soccer,” Reeves said. “As of right now, I can say that I certainly miss being an athlete, but I do not regret my decision to step away.”


Moving forward

The wages for women’s soccer players depend heavily on the amount of public attention the NWSL draws in, and will only increase as the sport becomes more popular. Averbuch expects several more years until their salaries are at a reasonable level, as it takes time for women’s soccer to build a strong fanbase. Unless the public becomes more interested, their salaries won’t be changing anytime soon.

A fan's thoughts on why women's soccer is not as popular as men's soccer
Chris Bodenner, The Atlantic
A fan’s thoughts on why women’s soccer is not as popular as men’s soccer

“I think for soccer, it’s a little bit tricky, because it’s a different situation in the sense that we are doing the same job, but the attendance at games, the sponsorship and all that is different…So I think that’s what it will take to eventually close the gap in pay will be to address those issues,” said Averbuch.

At the current rate, a study by the Institute For Women’s Policy Research found that the gender wage gap is projected to exist for another 43 years. It will be 2058 when the wage gap closes.

“In terms of in general, the gender wage gap, just men and women doing the exact same job, I think women and men need to advocate for women, and women need to advocate for themselves to be paid equally for the same job,” Averbuch said.

For those that do choose to continue down the path of soccer, the reality of getting paid less than their male counterpart in the MLS does not go unnoticed.

“Sometimes, we’re able to laugh about it but a lot of times, it’s a little frustrating because just the lifestyle—we do the same thing, we definitely put just as much into what we do and we care deeply for our jobs,” Averbuch said. “I can say that for almost everyone in the league that they care very deeply for their job.”



Click here for a video about the Women’s World Cup: http://eye.newsroombythebaysites.com/760/uncategorized/womens-world-cup-unnoticed-by-many/


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