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Gender Inequality in Sports

Name five famous male athletes. I‘ll start:

  1. Michael Jordan 2. LeBron James 3. Cristiano Ronaldo 4. Lionel Messi 5. Tom Brady

Now, name five famous female athletes:

  1. Serena Williams 2. Simone Biles 3. Alex Morgan 4. 5.

I’m no avid sports spectator, but I could list way more than five male athletes. Yet it took me quite a bit of time to think of just the three female athletes without looking them up.

All over the world, sports played by men get more media coverage, a larger audience, and pay larger salaries. Women get the short end of the stick. It doesn’t matter if the sport is played at a national scale, or simply played in a town. Men’s sports are treated much better than women’s.

I have played high school field hockey and lacrosse for two years. Actually, scratch that; I have played GIRLS field hockey and GIRLS lacrosse for two years. I have noticed that men’s sports don’t need ”men” or ”boys” in front of the sport’s name, whereas women’s sports do.

Google “lacrosse.” Pictures of men’s lacrosse show up. Google ”soccer.” Pictures of men’s soccer show up. Google “basketball.” Pictures of men’s basketball show up. These are some of the most popular sports in the country, and they all favor men. Baseball, a predominantly male sport, is way more popular than softball, a predominantly female sport. Baseball has the MLB. Softball has the National Pro Fastpitch (NPF), which took me a while to even find out online. The NBA, National Basketball Association, is a men’s league of basketball even though it doesn’t have ”men” anywhere in the name. But WNBA has ”women” in its name. Major League Lacrosse (MLL) is a men’s lacrosse league, but no “men” in the name. In comparison, the Women’s Professional Lacrosse League (WPLL) or the United Women’s Lacrosse League (UWLX) are the biggest leagues in the country that both contain the gender to which the league belongs (it is unclear to me whether or not these leagues are still active, but both have very few teams).

Why are male sports the default? Why does NBA have to be men and not women? Why can’t the MLL inlcude subdivisions to incorporate both women and men? Why are female athletes treated so poorly compared to male athletes?

According to Adelphi University, the salary difference between men and women is severe. The average salary in Major League Soccer (MLS) is $410,730, while the National Women’s Soccer League (NWSL) average pay is $35,000. MLB players earn an average salary of $4,031,549. NPF players earn a whopping $6,000 annually. The NBA average of $8,321,937 is over 100 times the WNBA average of $75,181. The combined salary of the top five highest-paid female athletes of 2019 were less than the 5th highest paid male athlete of the same year. (Roger Federer earned $93.4 million, the top five women earned a combined $78.8 million).

Teams and sponsors may pay an athlete more based on how much money that athlete brings in through tickets, television broadcasting rights, merchandise (clothes, posters, bobble-heads, etc.), and other revenues. It is clear that less people watch women’s sports than men’s. In 2018, 3.6 billion people tuned in to watch the FIFA World Cup in Russia. 1.12 billion viewers watched the coverage of the 2019 FIFA Women’s World Cup in France. That’s a difference of 2.5 billion people(!), roughly seven times the population of the United States.

Norway’s male and female beach handball teams

Networks and programs will do anything to make sure they have as many viewers as possible. In the European Handball Federation, male players get to play in tank tops and shorts 4 inches above the knee or shorter. Women, on the other hand, are required to wear “midriff-baring” tops and bikini bottoms “with a close fit and cut on an upward angle toward the top of the leg“ (NBC News) and a side width of no more than 4 inches. Earlier this year, the Norwegian women’s beach handball team made headlines when they asked the EHF if they could wear the shorts in which they practiced, but their request was rejected. They wore the shorts anyway and were fined by the EHF for their ”improper clothing.”

Why do women have to wear a uniform that isn’t ideal for their sport? In high school lacrosse and field hockey I am forced to wear a skirt. Why on earth would skirts ever be better than shorts in competitive athletics, especially sports like field hockey and lacrosse, that involve running, twisting, and bending? Skirts leave very little to the imagination, so I have to wear tight shorts like Nike Pros underneath. I would be ten times more comfortable playing these sports if I was allowed to wear regular shorts, or even a skort (a skirt with connecting shorts). I love fashion, but when it comes to sports, functionality should come before aesthetics. Shorts allow for a full range of motion without worrying about flashing an unsuspecting audience. While wearing shorts, I don’t have to pull the fabric down every five seconds due to it rising up when running. While wearing athletic shorts, I am able to focus on the game.

Groups are working towards making sports more equal. During the Opening Ceremony of the 2020 Tokyo Olympics, 89% of the National Olympic Committee’s (NOC) athlete delegations were led into the stadium by both men and women. The International Olympic Committee allowed one male and one female athlete from each NOC to jointly carry the flag during the Opening Cermony. This is just one of many changes occurring.

It’s time for sports to stop automatically referring to one gender. The NBA should be the National Basketball Association of men and women. More viewers need to watch both gender’s games, not just one. The salary for athletes of both sexes needs to be equal. For too long the divide between male athletes and female athletes has been monumental.

It is time to close the gap.


Works Cited

“FIFA Women's World Cup 2019™ Watched by More than 1 Billion.” Today in FIFA World Cup Qualifying,

Gross, Jenny. “Women's Handball Players Are Fined for Rejecting Bikini Uniforms.” The New York Times, The New York Times, 20 July 2021,

Ioc. “Women Athletes Take Centre Stage at Tokyo 2020 Opening Ceremony - Olympic News.” International Olympic Committee, IOC, 24 July 2021,

“Male vs Female Professional Sports Salary Comparison.” Adelphi University Online, 1 Nov. 2021,

“Norwegian Women's Beach Handball Team Fined for Not Playing in Bikinis.”, NBCUniversal News Group, 21 July 2021,

Prahl, Amanda. “The Men's World Cup Has Higher Viewership than the Women's World Cup.” POPSUGAR Fitness, 9 June 2019,

“Wage Determination in Professional Sports.” Human Kinetics,


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