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Celebrating Women’s Equality Day in the world of sports

(Brad Smith/ISI Photos)

Today is Women’s Equality Day, commemorating the 19th amendment and women’s right to vote. As the fight continues for social and economic equality, we teamed up with the investing app to spotlight women in the world of sports who are making moves to close the wealth gap.

But first, a special gift for you: Claim $10 worth of free stock by downloading the Public app and applying code JWS. Get started.

Billie Jean King won 39 Grand Slam titles in her career but accomplished much more than that through her activism. (Central Press/Getty Images)

Honoring the Past

In order to celebrate how far women in sports have come, it’s imperative to look back at the pioneers who first pushed for change.

Billie Jean King started the WTA in 1973 to vouch for equal prize money in tennis, paving the way for players like Chris Evert and Naomi Osaka to earn big paydays.

In 1970, King spearheaded the “Original 9,” a group of women’s tennis players who each signed $1 contracts with Virginia Slims to protest unequal prize money. What started as a stand for equal compensation and a fight for more exposure evolved into today’s WTA Tour.

Flash forward to 2021 and Serena Williams has amassed $94 million in prize money, twice the amount of any other female athlete, according to Forbes.

The 99ers, forever immortalized by Brandi Chastain’s jersey-gripping celebration after her game-winning goal in the 1999 Women’s World Cup final, changed the face of American soccer.

The team’s historic penalty-kick win over China inspired a generation of girls to play soccer, with many current USWNT stars citing Mia Hamm, Brianna Scurry and Kristine Lilly as their childhood heroes. The team’s success also gave women’s soccer players critical bargaining power, which they leveraged to establish the first professional women’s soccer league and the first collective bargaining agreement with U.S. Soccer.

Their efforts led directly to the formation of the Women’s United Soccer Association in 2001 as the first step toward a sustainable league. The NWSL, now in its ninth year, can be traced back to the 99ers, who helped secure soccer as an attainable profession for women in the United States.

Stephanie Gilmore took a stand for equal pay in surfing, pushing the WSL to make a landmark decision in 2018. (Kirstin Scholtz/World Surf League via Getty Images)

Closing the Gap

Today’s athletes have taken the baton from generations past, pushing sports leaders to prioritize equal pay for women.

Venus Williams’ storied career on the tennis court is matched by her tireless activism off of it, picking up the fight from Billie Jean King.

Williams first spoke out about inequality in 1998 when she was competing at Wimbledon as an 18-year-old. In 2005, after Williams had won four Grand Slams, she directly petitioned French Open officials to amend the tournament’s gender pay gap. Williams continued to pen op-eds and meet with the ITF’s Grand Slam Board, pushing for equal compensation at all four Grand Slam tournaments.

The fight paid off in 2007 when Williams became the first female champion at Wimbledon to earn the same prize money as the men’s champion, leaving the sport better than where she found it.

Stephanie Gilmore’s vocal push for equal compensation in surfing not only changed the makeup of the World Surf League but also inspired a conversation across sports.

The seven-time world champion spent much of her career earning less than her male counterparts, including a 2007 competition when the male champion made five times as much as she did. Gilmore’s campaign for pay equality pressed the WSL to make a landmark decision in 2018 — they would begin awarding equal prize money to women and men beginning with the 2019 season.

The WSL has continued to evolve thanks to Gilmore’s activism. In 2022, the organization will combine the men’s and women’s tours in a move to secure equal access to quality waves and tournament resources.

The USWNT has orchestrated arguably the most public fight for equal pay, with the players collectively suing their employer, U.S. Soccer, for gender discrimination two years ago. Over 20 players signed the lawsuit ahead of the 2019 World Cup, the team’s most consequential tournament.

“LFG,” an HBO documentary released in July that chronicles the USWNT’s battle with U.S. Soccer, pulled back the curtain on the team’s push for equality. Their case hit a setback in May 2020 when a federal judge dismissed the suit on the grounds that the players were being compensated in accordance with their agreed-upon contract. The players have since filed an appeal, continuing the team’s pursuit of equal pay.

FIFA prize money remains a sticking point for the USWNT — the 2018 Men’s World Cup awarded $400 million to 32 teams, while the 2019 women’s tournament received just $30 million for 24 teams.

Naomi Osaka is not only the highest-paid female athlete in the world but a leading athlete investor. (Quality Sport Images/Getty Images)

Planning the Future

The youngest generation of athletes are savvier than ever, investing in themselves, companies that share their values and other women’s sport teams.

Naomi Osaka is the highest-paid female athlete in the world, earning a record-breaking $55.2 million in 2020, according to Sportico.

Osaka has emerged as the face of brands like Levis and Nike and even launched her own swim line with Frankies Bikinis. Early investments in companies such as Sweetgreen and Hyperice have set Osaka apart as one of the most financially savvy athletes of her generation.

The tennis phenom has used her platform to effect change, advocating for racial justice and mental health awareness in particular. At just 23 years old, Osaka has also invested in the NWSL’s North Carolina Courage, doubling down on her support for women’s athletes.

Sabrina Ionescu quickly became one of the most high-profile athletes in the WNBA, signing a multi-year deal with Nike as a rookie in 2020.

The New York Liberty guard made headlines again when she partnered with Kevin Durant’s Thirty Five Ventures and its sports media business, Boardroom. Just last week, Ionescu announced her investment in Buzzer, an app that offers short-form live sports coverage and highlights personalized for fans.

Ionescu’s intentional foray into business is an indicator of the next wave of women’s athletes, where emerging talent has a seat at the table.

While women in sports have come a long way in closing the wealth gap, the fight is not over. Just Women’s Sports is proud to partner with as they work to democratize the way we invest.


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