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Serena Williams: “It takes time” to address gender pay inequity in sports

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Tennis superstar Serena Williams has long rallied for equality in gender pay in the sports world, but she told CBS News in an interview that addressing inequalities “takes time.” 

“You just can’t expect things to change overnight,” the 23-time Grand Slam champion said. Williams, 40, pointed out that those attitudes toward it are changing, especially when it comes to equal pay. 

“I like that people are starting to recognize that women do deserve equal pay and they deserve the same that a male gets,” she said. 

Steps toward gender equality in salaries across sports has made “great strides over the last few decades,” Sarah Axelson, the Women’s Sports Foundation vice president of advocacy, told CBS News on Friday. “But there’s still is plenty of room for progress.” 

Serena Williams has long rallied for gender equality in sports. 

Clive Mason – Formula 1/Formula 1 via Getty Images

Tennis has been a bastion of gender equality after Wimbledon joined the other three Grand Slam tournaments in 2007 to pay female players the same amount as male players in prize money. 

WNBA players have called out the pay disparity between their league and the NBA for years. The New York Times reported earlier this month the league raised $75 million as they attempt to revamp their business model and address those concerns. 

While the U.S. women’s national soccer team continues to fight for equal pay, the U.S. Soccer Federation announced last year they will offer identical contracts to both the men’s and women’s teams. The proposal would make both teams among the “highest paid senior national team players in the world,” the federation said.  

Prior to winning gold in the 2018 Pyeongchang Olympics, the U.S. women’s national ice hockey team fought for equal pay and won. 

Axelson said the discussion over the pay gap between male and female athletes is a nuanced one, depending on how the sport league or federation is organized, and women’s professional sports are relatively young compared to their male counterparts. For example, the WNBA is entering its 25th year, while the NBA is in its 76th year. And among the factors that play a role into pay equality are sponsorships, investment partners and media attention. 

“Once there is more attention and more visibility, people realize how great women’s athletics are, right? And their viewership increases. And so then, the investment increases,” she said. 

With the 50th anniversary of Title IX coming up in June, Axelson said from school sports to professional women’s sports, there’s a “lack of investment throughout,” despite the law being around for decades. 

“Time and time again, as people are investing in sports, not only is that a good decision because that’s a good thing to do,” she said. “It is a good business decision because women’s sports are worth investing in.”

Axelson’s nonprofit reached a five-year partnership agreement on Tuesday with Michelob ULTRA, who will help fund travel and training needed for female athletes to compete at a high level. The announcement also comes months after the beer brand committed $100 million to increasing the visibility of female athletes. 

Among their efforts was intentionally including the same number of male and female athletes in ads moving forward – such as the “Superior Bowl” commercial Williams is appearing in for the Super Bowl. 

“I applaud them for elevating female athletes and amplifying inclusivity to the world’s biggest stage… the Super Bowl,” Williams said. “It doesn’t really get any bigger than that.” 



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