What If I told you that one of the key issues that plagues the United States’ media system is: “that reporters, journalists, and publishers are expected to prioritize state interests above all and not to cross the lines drawn by the power holders, and if they do, they should be prepared to pay the price”? Would this seem absurd, especially if we substituted “state interests” for “progressive interests”? Personally, I don’t think it would be—and that is why it is telling that the above quote, taken from page 138 of Bilge Yesil’s study of the media in Turkey, Media in New Turkey: The Origins of an Authoritarian Neoliberal Statecan be applied so easily to the United States. In the age of neoliberal globalization, where economic concerns seem to be paramount, one could argue that all states have become authoritarian to some degree but that is a topic for another day; today I will focus specifically on sports media in the United States since it is a country where money has become so powerful that it runs most institutions, including the media.

This may be a reason that even sports reporting has become a battleground in the ongoing culture wars in American society. Whereas sports used to be a field in the United States that once served to unify a vast nation (most Americans can identify with a baseball team whether it is the San Franscisco Giants or the Boston Red Sox, for instance), it has recently become an increasingly divisive topic. ESPN has, as expected due to its corporatization, become a leading player in sending divisive messages guised as progressive thought; a recent article focusing on LPGA golf serves as a good example to study.

Anna Catherine Clemmons’ ESPN piece from 10 July focusing on LPGA golfers speaking up “about inequality” is more politics than it is sport. Take two of the questions players were asked: “How would you grade Donald Trump’s impact on women’s golf?” And “Would you ever consider not playing in the U.S. Women’s Open Because its being held at Trump National in Bedminster, New Jersey?”. As a sports fan, I am left wondering what on earth Donald Trump has to do with women’s golf, other than the fact that he is a rich white man, and golf is generally considered a rich white man’s game. If that is the common denominator, however, this article just smacks of racism and gender bias, in the same way that Barack Obama was made to unveil a bracket for the NCAA Men’s Basketball Tournament every March (seemingly) because he was a black man and basketball is generally seen as a sport appealing to black males in the United States. Of course, both of these characterizations of sport are inherently racist and it would behoove ESPN to avoid pandering to such base stereotypes.

 

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Two Very Odd Questions, and One Very Important Question. Images Courtesy Of: http://www.espn.com/golf/story/_/id/19865737/lpga-confidential-survey-speaking-golf-inequalities

 

Despite this glaring problem, Clemmons’ piece does raise one interesting issue (the one most female golfers she polled found to be most pressing), and that is the pay gap between female and male golfers in the United States. This would have been an interesting issue to follow, since it is one that has been in the news lately; the U.S. women’s national soccer team recently came out to criticize the U.S. Soccer federation for the wage gap between the U.S. Men’s National Team and US Women’s National Team (On April 5 2017 the US women did, in fact, get a raise). Since the pay gap and gender equality are hot topics in the United States, Clemmons would have done well to focus on the important topics, rather than bring politics into sports unnecessarily.

This would have been a good chance to bridge the divides in American society, rather than divide further, since the wage gap between women and men is a glaring example of the results of extreme capitalism; it affects all of us regardless of our sex. It seems that—in extreme capitalism—what you do does not really matter. What does matter is how much others value what you do. Take a plumber or an electrician or even a car mechanic. Although these are very useful jobs which can make a lot of money—without such professionals, the modern world would come to a halt—they are not valued as “prestigious”. This is why a run-of-the mill white collar worker working at an office for 35,000 dollars a year is viewed as having a “professional” job; it is the myth of the college degree that separates the white collar from the blue collar. Unfortunately, society has come to value typing on a computer more than it values getting a motor to run or fixing a leaking kitchen sink; essentially an “unskilled” worker with no real-world skills is viewed (in society’s eyes) as being “skilled”.

I believe that, at its root, this is one reason for the pay gap between women’s and men’s sports. Until more people consistently watch women’s golf—or women’s soccer, for that matter—they will be paid equally with men. That is, until views value women’s sports. But as long as male sports attract consistently more viewership, I do not see how women’s sports can garner the same kinds of money that men’s sports do. Likewise, it does not matter how great my writing is (of course its great ;), but until I am writing for a major sports or political website I will still be a marginal sociologist getting paid . . . .zero dollars. It has nothing to do with the quality of my work, rather it has to do with readership—and in sports terms, viewership.

One other reason for the pay gap stems from the inflated amount of money that (mainly male) sports figures get; remember when basketball star Kevin Durant was celebrated for not taking the maximum salary offered by the Golden State Warriors by accepting six (6!) million dollars less?). When six million dollars can be brushed off in a second, it shows just how much money is moving around in the world of professional sports. Take the disparity between how much the men in the NBA make compared to how much the women in the WNBA make: John Walters, of Newsweek, points out that

The league minimum in the NBA this season [2015-2016] is $525,000. The WNBA league minimum last summer was $38,000. Yes, the WNBA regular season is 34 games, compared with the NBA’s 82-game slog, but the highest-paid player in the WNBA makes roughly one-fifth that of the lowest-paid player in the NBA. Two years ago, 52 NBA players each earned more than all of the players in the WNBA combined.

 Of course, the NBA is a global entity that earned more than $5 billion last season. The WNBA, by comparison, barely breaks even. ESPN and Turner Sports pay the NBA a combined $2.6 billion annually to televise the NBA, whereas ESPN pays the WNBA $12 million annually for rights fees. That’s less than half of 1 percent of the NBA’s deal.

 

Again, the NBA wages are certainly inflated—but the WNBA just does not bring in enough revenue to raise their players’ wages. Walters’ article also points out how the US Women’s National soccer team—despite creating 16 million dollars more in revenue than the US Men’s National Team in 2015—cannot compete with the men’s wages due to the globalized nature of the football world:

 

The problem is that the USMNT [United States Men’s National Team] is tethered to the World Cup, the largest global sporting event outside the Olympics, which brought in $4.8 billion in revenue in 2014. The 2015 Women’s World Cup’s numbers are not available, but it likely brought in a small fraction of that sum. Germany earned $35 million for winning the 2014 World Cup in Brazil; the U.S. earned $2 million for winning the 2015 Women’s World Cup in Canada.

 

Again, we see that it is viewership and global sports revenues which determine the wages, not necessarily the quality of the product on offer. We can all agree that the U.S. Women’s National Team is much more successful globally than their male counterparts; women’s soccer just does not pay as much as men’s soccer does globally in the age of modern football. Thus it is not an issue of sexism, rather it is an issue of industrial football.

Clemmons’ ESPN article would have been well-served to focus on some of these points, so as to get to the root of what is going on. Without taking serious time to study the issues, journalists risk falling into the trap of succumbing to the old tropes of “misogyny” and “patriarchy”. Rather than divide men and women, we would do well to point out that men and women are experiencing very similar financial hardships in the sports world. For those who think that men have it easy and women are the ones being exploited, check out former minor league baseball player and author Dirk Hayhurst’s 2014 piece detailing the harsh conditions of minor league baseball in the United States. Mr. Hayhurst shows just how tough it is for those at the bottom end of the sports industry, playing in leagues that do not have the high viewership and player perks that the major leagues have. The issues are not about identity politics and about dividing men and women. Rather, the issues are about a sports industry that cares more about its bottom line—and profits—than it does about the athletes.

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