Mar 8, 2020 - Sports

Leading female athletes outline plight for equal pay, representation

Influential female athletes detailed their experience navigating gender and sports in interviews with "Axios on HBO."

The big picture: The U.S. women's national soccer team winning their second consecutive FIFA World Cup last year widely amplified calls for pay equality in sports. But female athletes still remain underpaid compared to their male counterparts.

  • Nneka Ogwumike, a leading WNBA player, said: "We don't need to change the game. You have to change how you're presenting it to people so that they can appreciate it for what it is. But I do think that because of the inequality in women's sports, it creates natural businesswomen. It creates natural fighters and natural pioneers."
  • Kathrine Switzer, the first woman to run the Boston Marathon, recounted harassment by men over her participation: "I really for a very split second wanted to step off the course. ... And I hadn't even understood anything about the feminist movement up to that point. And suddenly, it just all came down on me. By the time I crossed the finish line, I knew I wanted to be a better athlete and I knew I wanted to create those opportunities."
  • Billie Jean King, a tennis legend, said: "We have the same wants the guys do. No one has to be an activist. But I think as an athlete we have a unique opportunity and we need to use our platform to make this world a better place. And it's happening now. For some reason, this generation's all hopped up, and I love it."
  • Ilana Kloss, a tennis champion, praised progress on pay, but noted there's still work to be done: "Where we fall short is: Where are the woman tournament owners? Where are the woman tournament directors? Where are the woman coaches? And you have to be at the table. Otherwise, you're on the menu. And so I think for women and athletes, keep tryin' to get to the table because at least you're in the discussion and your voice can be heard."
  • Kendall Coyne Schofield, a hockey player and Olympic gold medalist, recounted the circumstances leading to the founding of the Professional Women's Hockey Player's Association: "The reality is that there's no professional women's hockey players that can make a sustainable living solely playing the game. Last year, I played in a professional league, and my salary was $7,000. ... And so collectively 200 players from all over the world came together and said, 'We need to make a difference.'"

Go deeper

International Women's Day and the glass ceiling

Data: Rutgers Center for American Women and Politics; Chart: Andrew Witherspoon/Axios

Women running for national and state office may be on track to break the record-setting runs and gains of 2018, as Republicans try to catch up with their Democratic counterparts.

Yes, but: The Super Tuesday results, and Elizabeth Warren's withdrawal, effectively ended any chance that this will be the year a woman wins the presidency. On International Women's Day this weekend, it's worth remembering that the struggle to reach the White House masks a lot of real progress at lower levels.

“Axios on HBO” interviews Billie Jean King

On the next episode of “Axios on HBO,” tennis legend Billie Jean King and other women sports pioneers talk equity in athletics. Tune in Sunday, March 8 at 6 p.m. ET/PT on all HBO platforms.

Slow progress for female world leaders

Illustration: Aïda Amer/Axios

While the U.S. has yet to break the presidential glass ceiling, 57 countries worldwide have been led by women since 1960.

The big picture: That year, former Sri Lankan prime minister Sirimavo Bandaranaike became the modern world's first female head of state. Finland and New Zealand have led the way in electing women since, with three women leaders each.