Liberal ESPN Should Pay Reparations for Gutting Women’s Soccer Salaries

AP Photo
The Associated Press

In reparation for ESPN’s part in gutting women’s soccer salaries with a virtual boycott of the first women’s pro league, perhaps Robert Iger and the other liberals who run Disney and ESPN can eliminate the World Cup gender gap by simply allocating 33 cents of the $6.04 we each pay every month to receive ESPN (according to WSJ).

ESPN was quick to note that the World Cup champions received just $2 million compared to the $35 million the German men received for their title. ESPN can get our women fairly paid by just giving up five percent of customer charges for one month.

This would be fair in light of the huge hindrance ESPN was to women getting their fair share when the Women’s United Soccer Association (WUSA) put the first all-professional women’s teams on the field in 2001.

3 steps to eliminate gender gap for World Cup Champs Amount
ESPN gives 33 cents of each $6.04/customer bill in June $ 0.33
100 Million customers cable/satellite June bills 100,000,000
ESPN gives $33m retribution to equalize soccer pay $ 33,000,000

In the wake of the 1999 World Cup win that brought 18 million viewers and lots of revenue to ESPN, the WUSA put a great product on the field that drew me and about 12,000 fans into the stadium every time World Cup goal keeper Briana Scurry and the Atlanta Beat played a home game. More than 20,000 came to regular season games in Washington. The WUSA put on a good show even though the Beat broke our hearts three years in a row by falling just short of the title.

Despite the great product, and the best athletes in their sport being willing to hang around and talk to fans after an exhausting 90-minute game, ESPN and others torpedoed the new league.

Georgia Tech’s coach George O’Leary complained during that first 2001 season that the women tore up his football field, which made Beat coach Tom Stone and all of us fans laugh when looking at our favorite players running around the field – all of whom were either 5’4” or 5’5” – in twins Julie and Nancy Augustyniak, Sun Wen from China, Homare Sawa from Japan, and our favorite Kylie Bivens. O’Leary’s complaining ended up forcing the Beat to a less convenient field for the next two seasons, requiring bus shuttles and escorts and trimming the crowd by several thousand a game.

The bigger disappointment was ESPN’s refusal to produce highlights of the best players in the world making history in the first all-professional women’s league.

If Sports Center did not cover you in the new sports world, then you were not a major sport. After returning from a game or knowing the Beat played on the road, I was one of many who would anxiously turn to ESPN to catch some highlights, only to be disappointed.

Finally ESPN could not ignore the championship game – so they covered it by putting the score on the bottom of the screen for a couple of seconds for those of us really paying attention.

After the third title game – another heartbreaking loss for our Atlanta Beat – the league folded with Cox Communications ($5 million) and others out their investments. The women had already agreed to play the third season with voluntary cuts of of third of their salaries, and yet were unemployed by the end of 2003.

Boston Breakers star Kristine Lilly, the all-time leader in games played for the US team, went to Sweden to play professionally after the WUSA folded. Bivens’ willingness to take an interest in Atlanta area youth players went a long way, and my daughter’s team actually rose to No. 2 in the country at one point (as silly as youth ratings can be) and one of her teammates Danielle Au followed in Lilly’s footsteps to play professionally in Sweden after being a star at South Carolina.

What if ESPN had been willing to invest $33 million of their billions back then after benefiting so much from the 18 million who tuned in to see President Bill Clinton and potential future President Hillary Clinton attending an ESPN-covered World Cup championship? Where would women’s salaries be now if ESPN had simply invested a little to cover the 8-team league to put the women’s salaries on an upward trajectory?

Could the women’s league have been successful and grown steadily?

ESPN has certainly promoted women’s soccer in more recent years. Their shameful ignoring of the first professional women’s league was more than a decade ago, but when liberals talk about retribution it is often for things that happened more than a century ago.

In the men’s vs. women’s sports debate, I will be the first to admit I find the NBA much more entertaining and worth my dollar than the WNBA because I like a game that involves getting to the rim repeatedly. I love football, baseball, and hockey, but think softball and women’s hockey are good. But I find women’s tennis (the first sport where pay is equal) and women’s soccer far superior to their male counterparts – particularly due to my disdain for men’s soccer players’ flops to draw whistles or stop opposing scoring chances. Many disagree, but we can all vote with our eyeballs, clicks, and dollars.

All ESPN needed to do in 2001 was give fans the option by showing highlights of WUSA games. But they chose market share over equal coverage then and now are lecturing us because the dollars are not equal.

Variety reports that this year Fox Sports blew away the ESPN figures from 1999 with 25.4 million viewers, so while ESPN benefits from a great 30 for 30 film on 1999 it is once again another outlet (Fox Sports now, Cox Communications then) stepping up to advance women’s soccer while ESPN gives liberal lectures from the sidelines.

Some may feel ESPN is completely justified in ruthless capitalists starving women’s pro soccer or any other competition out of existence to protect their profit, which did slip to an annual rate of $5 billion, based on the report of a quarterly profit of $1.26 billion according to the New York Times.

But the familiar refrain of the fabulously rich liberal lecturing the rest of us on why someone else isn’t footing the bill to cure injustices grows tedious.