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Women's athletics on the rise despite unequal pay

Nov. 17, 2005

by FRED BUTTACCIO, columnist

There was a time when making a career in sports was virtually taboo for aspiring young women.

After battles with stereotypes and prejudice, women have persevered and established themselves as bona fide, respected athletes.

Women have pioneered their way into professional leagues with sold-out arenas.

But do they receive the same dues as their counterpart male athletes?

The answer is no, and unfortunately, discrimination still runs rampant in the world of professional sports.

The most striking statistic contrasting male and female athletes is the gross difference in salary. While the minimum salary for a rookie going into the NBA in 2005 is $398,762, a rookie entering the WNBA stands to make a whopping $30,000.

This might seem like a sizeable disparity, but realistically these numbers pale in comparison to the league's average salaries.

The average salary for NBA players during the 2004-2005 season was $4.1 million.

The average for the WNBA was around $50,000. I'll save you the time of taking your calculator out of your backpack: On average, a professional women's basketball player is making more than 80 percent less than their male counterpart.

To be fair, NBA players have the highest average salary in professional sports. Major League Baseball players only make $1.45 million on average, while poor National Football League players average just more than $900,000.

It's no wonder Terrell Owens needed to renegotiate his contract so he could "feed his family."

The sad fact is that we are only discussing average salaries. What if we dared to compare the highest salaries of each player in his or her respected sport?

The reigning WNBA Most Valuable Player, Lauren Jackson of the Seattle Storm, earned less than $90,000 in 2004, including a $10,000 bonus for winning the 2004 WNBA championship. Before comparing Jackson's salary to the market-friendly athletes around the country, let's compare her salary to someone we all know and love (and of course respect) -- Shawn Bradley.

While Jackson dominated her peers on the way to winning a WNBA Championship, Bradley made $1.1 million last year by picking up junk minutes and contributing little on the court.

That is, aside from the occasional laugh from the crowd watching him fumble the ball or trip over his 7'6" frame.

Bradley made a million dollars more than the WNBA MVP.

Huh?

It would take no one short of God himself to explain to me how Bradley deserves a million dollars more than Lauren Jackson, or any other WNBA player.

Now let's compare the WNBA MVP to the high rollers of the MLB and NBA. MLB MVP Alex Rodriguez made $25,705,118 in 2005, just a fraction of his contract, which is worth more than $250 million.

The NBA's 2003-2004 MVP, Kevin Garnett, is the highest paid player in the NBA, earning 22.4 million in 2005.

It's obvious that women's athletics are not being raised to an equal standard as their male counterparts, and the gap isn't even marginally close. We've witnessed the rise of women in professional sports, but not the equalization of pay.

Fred Buttaccio is a senior journalism major from Katy.