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‘Equality’ is not what female athletes actually want

The recent “equal pay” controversy in women‘s soccer inadvertently revealed the folly of equating men’s and women’s sports.

Men’s and women’s sports are fundamentally different things. In one, the best athletes compete without the need for any rules around gender. In the other, the exclusion of half the human race is a requirement for competition to flourish.

Inequality is the fundamental premise of women’s sports, because men’s genetic differences disqualify them. It’s also why men’s sports are more lucrative on average because men compete at a higher level. Any comparison between men’s and women’s competition apples-to-apples is absurd.

So it’s fascinating that the most high-profile case of foolishly equating men’s and women’s sports backfired so spectacularly this week. After months of Megan Rapinoe’s whining and even a lawsuit demanding “equal pay,” it came out that the U.S. women have actually been paid more than their male counterparts by U.S. Soccer all along. Oops.

This fact goes a long way to disprove the claim that U.S. Soccer is biased in favor of male players. But it also shows how the absence of literal equality in sports is crucial for women.

People intuitively grasp that men’s and women’s basketball players, for instance, are paid differently because one sport is vastly more popular than the other. The same goes for nearly every sport, but soccer in the United States is a peculiar exception, since we are the nation least captivated by soccer while having a juggernaut of a women’s team. But the men are something of a joke. Americans love winning, and lots of our women and girls who aren’t sports fanatics still tune in for the Women’s World Cup — so you have great ratings.

You also have a perception gap: People love our women’s team so much, they forget that the women’s game draws a fraction of the money globally that the men’s game does. Even our mediocre men’s players make good money playing for clubs around the country and the world, whereas women’s soccer draws little attention aside from the World Cup. If they couldn’t don the Stars and Stripes, the women wouldn’t be household names.

Thus, it would be easy for U.S. Soccer to use differences in overall interest to follow the norm and pay men more. But in fact, in this case, the market operated to women’s benefit anyway. U.S. Soccer gets most of its prestige and ratings from the women’s game, and it pays the women more. In areas outside the U.S. federation’s purview (e.g. club contracts), the men make far more, but the program understands the women are its stars, and that’s reflected in the figures.

This equal pay controversy has become an embarrassment to the players who championed it. Rapinoe, for instance, has disrespected America and complained about her pay, yet it’s clear her popularity depends entirely on her playing for America, and her pay is actually better than the men’s.

Meanwhile, victims of actual bias, such as Jaelene Hinkle, get ignored because they don’t promote a progressive message. Hinkle’s determined gratitude toward her country despite discrimination is in stark contrast to Rapinoe’s mix of whining and unsportsmanlike showboating.

Women’s sports are an artificial creation. When Rapinoe says sexism is the only possible explanation for the global lack of interest in women’s soccer, she’s ignoring that women simply can’t play soccer with men without physical parity, which they have in Little League or auto racing, for instance. In reality, women need special leagues carved out for them to compete at a lower athletic level. Absolute equality would mean only one soccer league for all, and in that world, no women could compete. Women’s sports are a social construct, created to give women access to competition on fair (and not equal) terms.

And thanks to the free market, women’s sports can even make good money.

Paul Crookston is the deputy war room director for the Washington Free Beacon.