No women made it onto Forbes’ most recent list of the world’s 100 highest paid athletes. And last month, members of the top-ranked US women’s national soccer team sued the US Soccer Federation for gender discrimination.
But California is aiming to combat the gender pay gap in professional sports.
A bill in the state’s legislature would require athletic contests to award equal prize money to men and women.
It relates to the Golden State’s competitions in surfing, cycling, open-water swimming, triathlons and other sports. Many of these are hosted on state land and waterways.
The proposed legislation would mandate that California’s State Lands Commission grants permits only for competitions that pay athletes the same regardless of their gender.
Assemblymember Tasha Boerner Horvath, who authored the bill, said she wants people to see that California values men and women’s skills equally.
“We would never allow pay inequity, like we see in athletic competitions, in any other space. We’d never pay a female nurse less than a male nurse for the same work,” Boerner Horvath told CNN. “These competitions are an athlete’s place of work.”
The lawmaker was inspired by a surfing contest
Boerner Horvath got the idea for the bill from the State Lands Commission’s 2018 decision about the Mavericks surfing contest in Half Moon Bay. The commission wrote in its lease agreement that the contest must award equal prize money to women and men competitors. It was the first year that women were able to compete in the event.
Cori Schumacher, a three-time women’s longboard champion, saw the State Lands Commission’s move and thought it should be codified into state law to impact sports beyond surfing. She spoke with Boerner Horvath, who agreed and introduced the bill in February after she took state office in 2018. The bill was sent to the House appropriations committee last week.
Schumacher, who now sits on Carlsbad’s City Council, has experienced the gender pay gap in sports firsthand.
“As a professional athlete, when I had won my second world title, I was paid one-third for the world champion check what my male counterpart was paid,” Schumacher said. “On the sponsorship side of things, my male counterpart was making enough to hold down a mortgage and pay for his family. I was offered $2,000 a year.”
California made waves recently with another progressive gender-equality law. Last October, it became the first state to require publicly traded firms headquartered there to have at least one woman on their board of directors.