When little boys have a dream to go into professional sports, their opportunities seem endless. With legends like Michael Jordan, Alex Rodriguez, Tiger Woods and Tom Brady, boys have role models from a variety of sports who have crafted the path to success in the professional athletic world.
When little girls have a dream to go into professional sports, however, the narrative is quite different.
Take the USC women's soccer team, for example.
The Women of Troy have been on fire this 2019 season, making it to the national quarterfinals with 17 overall wins. Their final game ended in a 3-2 loss against No. 2 North Carolina. For four seniors on the team, this was their last true soccer game, for life.
Why are they not entering the professional draft? Why does this have to be the end for them?
For female athletes, going pro is nowhere near as luxurious a dream as it is for their male counterparts. The divisive opinions on going professional for the USC women's soccer team reflect a much larger issue in America regarding gender stereotypes and an intense wage gap among sexes in sports, especially. The members of the USC women's soccer team prove that girls can put in just as much time and energy as boys, yet women always reap little to no lasting benefits.
"I think a big reason why women don't wanna go pro is because from a young age you see men being idolized in the sports industry, and it's very rare to see a female being idolized and in the spotlight," said Ashley Soto of Long Beach, California. Soto has played soccer since she was 4. Now a sophomore defensive player on USC's team, she claimed her hopes of going pro washed away when she entered college.
"Also, there's obviously the money aspect," Soto said. "Playing pro soccer, some women barely get paid minimum wage salaries for all the work they do, so I think that educated women want to live comfortably and will ultimately pass up the opportunity to go pro if they could, because they know it would set them back years in terms of grad school, and so forth."
So just how much do professional women soccer players actually get paid?
Well, it depends on the league.
Of course, the United States women's national soccer team is at the top of the revenue pyramid. According to a study conducted by the John Jay College of Justice, the players of the national team make about $25,000-$85,000 per season, with the average being $45,000.
For the national team, this is not a very significant amount. With every other league below, the numbers just decrease and dwindle.
These facts act as deal-breakers for many of the USC women's soccer team players when it comes to going professional.
"Over time I just learned that there's not much money in the profession. The only way you make money is through endorsements, and the only way you can obtain endorsements is if you're on the highest level of soccer that there is, which is the national team, but there's only so many spots on that team. If you think about how many girls play soccer, the percentage of making that team is so low," said Taylor McMorrow, a senior forward on the USC women's soccer team.
Soccer is not the only sport in which females struggle to make a worthwhile living. In fact, female athletes in virtually any sport earn way less than men in the same exact sports (or sports not even available to women).
According to Forbes, of the 100 highest-paid athletes in 2019, only one is female: Serena Williams finds her spot at No. 63 for a total pay of $29.2 million, a salary of $4.2 million and endorsements bringing in a total of $25 million.
At the top of the list?
Male soccer player Lionel Messi for a salary of $92 million.
Even in a ranking of the top-paid female athletes, there are no soccer players in the top 20.
This intense wage gap has been brought to light through various female athletes and movements. According to the New York Times, in March 2019, the national women's soccer team sued the United States Soccer Federation over "purposeful gender discrimination." The Times also quoted Megan Rapinoe, one of the U.S. team's most prominent players, stating she and her team felt a responsibility to fight on behalf "of our teammates, future teammates, fellow women athletes and women all around the world."
Another female athlete fighting for her right to equality is Brianne Jenner, a professional hockey player who started the Dream Gap Tour.
McMorrow attended an ESPN women in sports summit, where she listened to Jenner explain her inspiration to start the Dream Gap Tour.
"She explained that she was paid the most on her team. The highest salary on her team was $7,000 per year. She had to live on $7,000 per year. She said there were no showers in the locker rooms, and in hockey you have all this gear, and you're sweating and disgusting, and she said they would expect them to just get on buses all disgusting right after their games. Then she said they would get $15 to purchase a pre-game meal, but you would have to Uber to the restaurants. Her team was from Minneapolis, so there weren't that many options where their games were held, and they would have to spend half of their $15 on Ubers just to get their meals," Taylor said about Jenner's presentation.
"She said little girls would come to her games and tell her, 'I want to do what you do,' and she would say it would be really hard for her, because she couldn't look them in the eye and tell them to keep dreaming. She wanted to tell them, 'No, you don't want to do this, because this life sucks. It's not fun.'"
The entire women's hockey league, fed up with this inequality, went on strike for no pay. They didn't take any salaries. Instead, they created this Dream Gap Tour, in which they traveled around and played at different stadiums to raise awareness about the drastic wage gap between female and male athletes.
Taylor found the tour inspiring, as the premise extended into every sport, not just hockey.
McMorrow, who has played soccer since age 5, claimed the thought of going pro never really crossed her mind, as she hadn't heard of any professional leagues for women growing up. She only looked forward to participating in a collegiate team.
After all, USC has provided the women's team with more resources than they would receive in the professional league.
Head coach Keidane McAlpine often reminds his players to be grateful for the vast resources provided to them: dietitians, trainers, funding, gear, amenities and support.
"Coming out of collegiate soccer is actually a disservice into what people think is going to happen. You think 'Oh, I'm going into the pros, it's only going to get better from this.' It's like collegiate football; it's only going to get cooler from this. Whereas collegiate soccer is actually the pinnacle of what the best is," McMorrow said.
Now, with a heavy heart, Taylor must say goodbye to her soccer career after the loss to North Carolina.
"I think I'm ready for that next chapter in my life, and I think a lot of other girls are ready for that next chapter because they know what building a career and what gaining important work experience will bring in the long term versus the short term," she said.
However, Taylor would not say goodbye if she did not have to.
"I love playing soccer, so I guess if soccer was more lucrative and had more money in it, then I would have a different mentality and mindset about going pro."
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- Women's sports - Wikipedia ›
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- IOC Women in Sport - History of Female Athletes Participation ›
- Women in Sports: 50 Fearless Athletes Who Played to Win (Women ... ›
- Women's Sports Foundation: Home ›
- Why Aren't Women's Sports as Popular as Men's? - The Atlantic ›
- 8 Times Women in Sports Fought for Equality - The New York Times ›