SPEAKING OF SPORTS: Why women won’t get their ‘due’

There is an undercurrent of discontent among the players as the U.S. women’s soccer team gets ready to defend its World Cup championship. The discontent involves money–the women don’t think they’re getting enough of it.

Several of the players sued the U.S. Soccer Federation in March, alleging institutional gender discrimination, and team co-captain Megan Rapinoe of Redding charged last week that soccer’s international governing body, FIFA, isn’t doing enough to close the huge gender disparity in prize money.

When it comes to inequality in the U.S., the women have a point that should be an embarrassment in a country where the money goes to the winners. The U.S. women’s team has excelled on the international stage, winning three World Cups–the only nation to do so–and four Olympic gold medals. The U.S. men’s team is just embarrassing–heck, they didn’t even qualify for the World Cup competition this year because they couldn’t beat Trinidad Tobago.

But in the U.S., the women on the national team get just 38 percent of the compensation of their male counterparts. In the World Cup, the men’s teams will divide up a pot of $440 million in prize money, with more than $40 million going to the winning team. The women’s prize money has been doubled to $30 million, with $4 million going to the winners.

But since we’re talking about professional sports, equity has nothing to do with it–compensation is bottom-line driven. The reality is that women’s sports are not as popular as men’s sports and the women are compensated accordingly.

The experience of the WNBA illustrates the point. No new league was better positioned to succeed than the WNBA when it opened for business in 1997. For starters, the operation was bankrolled by the highly successful National Basketball Association. The women’s teams were owned by NBA franchises, which meant they had financial stability, nice venues to play in, and favorable schedules.

Then NBA Commissioner David Stern strong-armed the TV networks carrying NBA games to broadcast the women’s games. Two networks signed multi-year deals with the WNBA. None of this produced the success everybody expected. Men ignored the women’s game, and there aren’t enough female fans to fill the arenas. TV ratings were poor and coverage has dwindled to a few games on ESPN.

Several franchises, including the one in Sacramento, folded and others moved to new cities. The players are so poorly paid that many of them play overseas during the off-season in order to make a decent living.

The comparison isn’t fair, but the reality is that men compare the women’s game to the men’s game and conclude it’s inferior. Until there are a lot more female sports fans in this country wiling to buy expensive athletic shoes and drink low cal beer, operations like the WNBA and women’s soccer will continue to be second-class sports, and will be compensated accordingly.

Female athletes who want to make serious money in the U.S. should take up golf or tennis.

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Sacramento Kings coach Dave Joerger had a record of 98-148 over the last three seasons. Los Angeles Lakers coach Luke Walton had a record of 98-148 over the last three seasons.

But Vivek Ranadive, principal owner of the Kings, is apparently an impatient man, so Joerger was fired and Walton was hired two days after the Lakers canned him, making Walton the Kings’ sixth coach since Ranadive and his partners bought the team in 2013.

As it turns out, Walton may be the shortest tenured coach of the bunch. A week after he was hired, former Southern California television sports reporter Kelli Tennant filed a civil suit alleging Walton sexually assaulted her when he was an assistant at the Golden State Warriors in 2014.

Tennant never filed a police report and waited five years to take action against Walton, so a lot of people will question her claim. But this is the age of #MeToo and the NBA has launched an investigation into the allegations. If the league concludes there is substance to her claims, Walton could be fired and the Kings would again look like the dolts they’ve been for years.

The Kings have had only eight winning seasons since arriving from Kansas City in 1985–all of them during the reign of Rick Adelman–and this last season was their best since Adelman was fired in 2006.

But the young Kings faltered after the All-Star break, finishing the season 9-16, and General Manager Vlade Divac decided Walton was the coach to lead Sacramento to the promised land. “I’ve found my teammate,” Divac told the media the day Walton’s hiring was announced. “We’re going to work together and it’s going to be an exciting season for us.”

Then the lawsuit hit, and Walton disappeared from public view. The Sacramento Bee reported a siting last week–Walton showed up at the team’s training facility to work out some free agents–but has studiously avoided any contact with the media.

Even if the NBA gives Walton a passing grade, you have to wonder how he will deal with persistent questions about the lawsuit and the salacious details it will undoubtedly contain. The Kings already have a difficult time attracting good free agents. This won’t make it any easier.

Way to go, guys.

***

As long as we’re on the subject of dysfunction, let’s not ignore Magic Johnson’s recent bridge-burning exercise designed to cover his inept leadership of the Los Angeles Lakers.

Johnson was hired two years ago as president of basketball operations, tasked with reviving one of the NBA’s marque franchises. He was less than successful in this endeavor before abruptly resigning in public, not even bothering to alert the Lakers’ main owner, Jeanie Buss.

Then he went on ESPN to blame everybody but himself for the team’s inability to become a contender during his tenure. In Johnson’s accounting, too many voices in the front office and back-stabbing by general manager Rob Pelinka did him in.

People in the organization describe a Johnson who tolerated no dissent, signed players without discussing or vetting them with anybody in the organization, and made deals in secret. As for Pelinka, Johnson could have fired him if he was the back-stabber Magic now claims he was.

But Johnson owns the deals he made, and none of them look very good right now. For starters, he signed the likes of Rajon Rondo, Lance Stephenson, JaVale McGee and Michael Beasley–players on the downside of their careers with a history of being malcontents and trouble makers.

Johnson failed to sign Brooke Lopez, who went on to have a solid season off the bench for Milwaukee, and traded young center Ivica Zubac for essentially an expiring contract. NBA insiders laughed at that deal.

Then there’s the saga of Anthony Davis. After the New Orleans star demanded to be traded, the Lakers offered the few good young players they have to the Pelicans for Davis. The offer was rejected, and the players are now less than enthused about their futures in Los Angeles.

Of course, Johnson did sign LaBron James, who proceeded to undermine Walton’s authority.  Now there are reports James is trying to lure future free agents Kawhi Leonard and Kyle Lowry to the Lakers, apparently without consulting team ownership.

Magic Johnson can do all of the shucking and jiving he wants, but that won’t disguise the fact he was a disaster during his latest stay with the Lakers.

***

Toronto Raptors coach Nick Nurse needs to work on his sideline posturing: He reminds me of a high school coach who is trying too hard to win…It is rare for the team with the home court advantage to be the underdog in a championship series, but that’s what the Raptors are…If the Warriors win their fourth championship in five years, Steve Kerr won’t get the credit he deserves for the coaching job he did this year.

***

Nevada City’s own Alexander Rossi, who won the Indy 500 two years ago and finished second this year, comes across as a guy who has been packaged for sponsors, not for fans.

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This entry was posted in Golden State Warriors, Sacramento Kings, Sports, Uncategorized. Bookmark the permalink.

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