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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 Public.com 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.

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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.

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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.

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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 Public.com as they work to democratize the way we invest.

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LPGA Star Lexi Thompson Announces Retirement From Professional Golf

pro golfer lexi thompson on the course
Thompson turned pro in 2010 and went on to win 11 LPGA tournaments, capturing her first title in 2011 at the Navistar LPGA Classic. (Adam Hunger/Getty Images)

Pro golfer Lexi Thompson is retiring, she announced on Tuesday. This will be her final season on the LPGA Tour.

The 29-year-old has been playing professionally for the past 15 years. The two-time Olympian and six-time Solheim Cup competitor said that she’d been contemplating retirement for a few months, coming to the conclusion that it was time to step away.

"While it is never easy to say goodbye, it is indeed time," Thompson posted to Instagram. "At the end of 2024, I will be stepping away from a full professional golf schedule. I'm excited to enjoy the remainder of the year as there are still goals I want to accomplish.

"I'm looking forward to the next chapter of my life. Time with family, friends, and my trusted companion Leo. I will always look for ways to contribute to the sport and inspire the next generation of golfers. And of course, I look forward to a little time for myself."

Thompson is set to play at the US Women’s Open in Pennsylvania starting Thursday. Speaking from Lancaster Country Club, Thompson told reporters that she’s currently taking it "day by day."

"I'm not going to say yes or no on how many events I'll play or if I do," she said. "I'm just going to take it day by day and see how I feel, especially going into next year, but I'm very content with this being my last full-time schedule year."

Thompson also cited mental health as a factor in her decision to retire.

"I think we all have our struggles, especially out here," she said. "Unfortunately in golf you lose more than you win, so it's an ongoing battle to continue to put yourself out there in front of the cameras and continuing to work hard and maybe not seeing the results you want and getting criticized for it. So it's hard.

"I will say, yes, I've struggled with it — I don't think there's somebody out here that hasn't. It's just a matter of how well you hide it, which is very sad."

This will be Thompson’s 18th-straight year participating in US Women’s Open. At just 12 years old, she was the youngest golfer to qualify for the 2007 tournament, later making her first cut at the major in 2009 at 14.

Thompson turned pro in 2010 and went on to win 11 LPGA tournaments, capturing her first title in 2011 at the Navistar LPGA Classic. 

The retirement came as a surprise to many, including decorated LPGA standout Nelly Korda

"She's had such an amazing career," Korda said Tuesday. "I've gotten to be on the team with her a couple times representing our country. I think she does an amazing job for the Tour. She spends so much time going to each pro-am party. She really dedicated her time to growing the game.

"It's sad to see that she's obviously leaving and not going to be out here with us anymore, but she's had an amazing career, and I wish her the best in this new chapter of her life."

Argentina Women’s National Team Stars Quit Over Pay, Conditions Dispute

Julieta Cruz of Argentina controls the ball during the FIFA Women's World Cup
The team qualified for the 2023 Women's World Cup, but failed to make it through the group stage. (Ulrik Pedersen/DeFodi Images via Getty Images)

Argentina women's national football team starting goalkeeper Laurina Oliveros, defender Julieta Cruz, and midfielder Lorena Benítez have officially left the team after a dispute over a lack of pay and conditions.

The news comes while the team is away at training camp during the FIFA international window. Argentina is scheduled to play two international friendlies at home against Costa Rica on May 31st and June 3rd — matches that Argentina's soccer association is refusing to pay its players for, according to Cruz and Benítez.

"We reached a point in which we are tired of the injustices, of not being valued, not being heard and, even worse, being humiliated," Cruz, a defender, wrote in an Instagram post published early this week. "We need improvements for Argentina's women's soccer national team, and I am not only talking about finances. I speak about training, having lunch, breakfast."

Argentina qualified for the 2023 Women’s World Cup, but failed to make it out of the group stage after losing to Italy and Sweden and drawing with South Africa. That stands in stark contrast to the men’s team, which won the 2022 FIFA World Cup behind star forward Lionel Messi. 

In her own Instagram post, Benítez alleged that players were provided only a ham and cheese sandwich and a banana as food during training camp, and that their families were being charged 5,000 pesos per ticket to see them compete against Costa Rica.

"And so millions of things we've been through, being FOOLED over and over again," Benítez added.

Goalkeeper Oliveros’s message was more concise than her teammates: "My wish for this year and the following? That generations to come may enjoy and be happy running behind the round, as perhaps at some point we were." 

Clark, Martin Square Off in First Pro WNBA Matchup

Kate Martin #20 of the Las Vegas Aces and Caitlin Clark #22 of the Indiana Fever look on during the game
Things looked a little different Saturday night as the former Iowa teammates went head-to-head in Las Vegas. (Jeff Bottari/NBAE via Getty Images)

Former Iowa teammates Caitlin Clark and Kate Martin shared the court once again on Saturday, this time as professionals.

It was Martin’s Aces that got the 99-80 win over Clark’s Fever in Las Vegas. The pair's former coaches Lisa Bluder, Jan Jensen, Jenni Fitzgerald, and Raina Harmon were all in attendance to watch their Hawkeyes — Clark, Martin, and former national player of the year Megan Gustafson — take the court.

"It’s super special. It’s cool for our program, cool for Lisa, for Coach Jan, for all of them," Clark said in a pregame press conference. "They’ve known me since I’ve been 13 years old and now I’m 22 getting to live out my dream and they’ve been a huge part of that and helping me get here and helping Megan and Kate to get here too. It’s a great moment for them and I’m sure they’re not complaining about a trip to Vegas."

As for her college teammate, Clark had nothing but good things to say ahead of the showdown. 

"I’m just really happy for her and everything Coach [Becky] Hammon says about her is so true," she said. "Every person that played at Iowa and was around her knows that to be true. She’s the ultimate teammate, ultimate person, ultimate leader."

In the end, Martin stole the show with 12 points and seven rebounds in 22 minutes, while Clark amassed eight points, seven assists, and five rebounds over 29 minutes of playing time. 

"It was weird," Martin admitted after the game. "I'm not going to lie — just looking out on the court and seeing her in a different jersey than me, it was obviously different. But it's really fun. We're both living out our dreams right now."

The Aces next meet the fever on July 2nd at T-Mobile Arena in Las Vegas.

Barcelona Beat Lyon to Win Back-to-Back Champions League Titles

Barcelona's Aitana Bonmatí and Alexia Putellas celebrating after beating Lyon at the 2024 Champions League final
Ballon d'Or winners Aitana Bonmatí and Alexia Putellas helped Barcelona to a second-straight UWCL title on Saturday. (Ramsey Cardy - Sportsfile/UEFA via Getty Images)

Barcelona was crowned champion of the Champions League on Saturday with a 2-0 win over Lyon in Bilbao.

Alexia "La Reina" Putellas, who recently re-signed with Barcelona, came off the bench to score the team's second goal. Fellow Ballon d’Or winner Aitana Bonmatí provided the team’s first. After the game, defender Lucy Bronze said Putellas was nicknamed "the queen" for a reason.

"Alexia is the captain of the team and she's the queen of Barcelona for a reason,"  defender Lucy Bronze told DAZN. "She's got the quality to do that in the last minute of the Champions League final when we were up against it at the end and it just sealed the win for us. It was amazing."

The victory marked Barcelona's first win over Lyon in a UWCL final, having previously gone up against the French side at both the 2019 and 2022 Champions League finals. It's also Barcelona's second Champions League title in a row.

"It's hard to win it once, but to do it back-to-back, Lyon showed how difficult it is and this team has finally done that," Bronze said. "I think we go down in history as one of the best teams in Europe."

This season, the team also secured a quadruple for the first time in club history, having already won Liga F, the Copa de la Reina, and the Spanish Supercopa. The win ensures that coach Jonatan Giráldez — who has officially departed the team to join the NWSL's Washington Spirit — leaves Europe a champion.

"It was an incredible game. I am really happy, it's one of the best days of my life for sure," Giráldez told broadcaster DAZN after the game. "We did an amazing job. I am very proud of all of them."

Following the win, Putellas said her team "can't ask for anything else."

"Our objective was to win four out of four," the Spain international told reporters. "We have achieved everything we wanted. Every minute of sacrifice has been worth the effort — and I'd say that not after the game, but before, just entering in the stadium, with all the support we had here, it was worth it."

2024 Laureus World Sportswoman of the Year Aitana Bonmatí said that the crowd support made it "feel like Camp Nou."

"I am on cloud nine right now," she said. "It is an historic day which we will remember forever."

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