Widgets Magazine

Ramgopal/Sussman: There cannot be a gender wage gap in tennis

This column reflects the opinion of the writers and does not in any way reflect the views of The Stanford Daily.

On Monday afternoon, Grant Avalon sent a sports column into The Stanford Daily, arguing that male tennis players be paid more than female tennis players. We are two female managing editors of The Stanford Daily Sports section, and we cringe to see it in print.

Avalon’s column is not a Stanford Daily Sports article; it is an opinion piece published as a column in the sports section, as is common practice in most newspapers. The Stanford Daily does not censor student opinion pieces except in cases of hate speech, and Avalon’s column was held to those same standards.

Yet, while Avalon’s column was devoid of hate speech, it was similarly devoid of respectful tone and well-rounded perspective.

Avalon’s argument hinges on the concept of fairness. He argues player pay should be determined “according to one of three measures: talent, revenue generated or amount of work.”

The elephant of gender physiology lurks in the corner of the room. No one is contesting that male athletes tend to be stronger and faster than women. Yet, these skeletal details are morally insignificant when it comes to equality of athletic opportunity — the right of every female athlete to respect and recognition on the court.

When we, as women, ask for equality in sports, what do we mean? 

Equality in sports requires wage parity. When it comes to the athletic industry, gender discrimination is a circular issue. Without gender equality at the top tier of competition, media outlets will not invest the same energy in coverage. Without media visibility, female athletes will struggle to grow a fanbase. Small fan bases mean less viewership. Therefore, lower viewership numbers cannot — for the sake of shedding norms of the 1950s — validate lower pay for female athletes.

One of Avalon’s foundational arguments holds that men should get paid more because men’s tennis generates more revenue.

Factually, he’s not wrong. Men’s tennis tends to sell more tickets than women’s tennis. However, things are changing, and the statistics are there to prove it (although, conveniently, they are absent from Avalon’s column). The 2015 U.S. Open Women’s tournament sold out more quickly than the men’s tournament, and the 2013 and 2014 women’s finals had higher TV ratings than the men’s finals. The 2005 Wimbledon Williams-Davenport matchup attracted over one million more viewers than the Federer-Roddick counterpart of the same year. This progress persists despite lack of equal media coverage; women still only received 38 percent of spots at the Wimbledon prime coverage courts in 2015.

Additionally, the revenue argument falls flat when gender dynamics flip. The U.S. women’s soccer team is far more successful than the men’s team, and still, the female salary cap is 11 times less. Female and male figure skaters and gymnasts earn equal prize money, despite the fact that female competitions are far more “marketable and profitable,” to match Avalon’s choice of words.

By coarsely playing the “revenue” card, Avalon side-steps centuries of female discrimination in sports institutions. Female athletics gained its first momentum in the 1970s, while male preferences have dominated the professional sports arena since the literal ancient times — the first Olympics in 776 B.C. By 1972, girls were only 7.4 percent of high school athletes. By 1984, one-fifth of Olympic athletes were female, and it was considered an accomplishment.

In truth, the professional female sports industry is in a comparative stage of infancy–to argue that female athletes ought to generate equal industry revenue for equal pay is to ignore centuries of suffocating athletic sexism.

Avalon also references playing time in Grand Slam competitions, where men play five-set matches and women play three-set matches. He argues that male tennis players should get paid more because they play longer games. This argument is both logically flawed and factually incomplete.

To start, Grand Slams are an exception in tennis. In almost every other tennis competition, men and women both play three sets. Additionally, the rule that women play three sets and men five sets is dictated not by the players, but by the International Tennis Federation. Women have no control over the arrangement, and most women want to play five sets, an argument that has been repeatedly made by WTA champion Stacey Allaster, alongside many other professional women. Game-length disparity is an example of pre-existing gender inequality that should be addressed, not an excuse to reinstitute wage inequality.

Furthermore, by Avalon’s logic, the 2005 Wimbledon female champion should have been paid more than the male champion, because her final lasted about 45 minutes longer. Professional sports don’t pay extra for longer contests; overtime play does not equal overtime pay.

Tennis is one of the leading sports when it comes to the ideals of gender equality. And yet, the wage gap increased between men and women from $2.6 million in 2008 to $37.4 million in 2014. This inequity is sustained by people like Avalon and BNP Paribas Open CEO Raymond Moore, who once stated that female players are “lucky” to “ride on the coattails of the men.”

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In Avalon’s concluding sentence, he writes, “Still, men’s tennis players must continue to fight until they can one day break through the glass ceiling of artificially balanced pay in their sport.”

The glass ceiling quote is the worst one. The phrase “glass ceiling” is politically laced with centuries of genuine feminist struggles, many of which still persist today. It is a constant, humiliating social truth that a woman in America still receives 83 cents for every dollar a man makes.

Throwing around the term “glass ceiling” is ignorant. Using the term “glass ceiling” to support the ill-founded endeavors of misogynist public figures such as Novak Djokovic is downright offensive.

It is not the prerogative of a student publication to censor opinion pieces merely because we as editors disagree. Instead, we wanted to take advantage of the freedom of dialogue proliferated by the Daily and articulate our dissenting opinions. Unfortunately, Avalon’s point of view is a common line of argumentation in the sports industry. As the female sports industry continues to fight battles of wage equality, we encourage similar dialogue with the hope of fueling movement forwards, not backwards.

 

Contact Kit Ramgopal at kramgopa ‘at’ stanford.edu and Laura Sussman at laura111 ‘at’ stanford.edu.