Gender-based pay inequities have long pervaded American sports, but a growing number of lawmakers and athletes are advocating for a solution: “equal pay for equal play.” This principle is embodied in the “Equal Pay for Team USA Act of 2021,” a bipartisan piece of legislation reintroduced to the Senate on Jul. 13, 2021.

Originally brought forward in 2019 by Senators Maria Cantwell (D-WA) and Senator Shelley Moore Capito (R-W.Va), the Bill calls for equal pay for all athletes representing the U.S. in international sporting competitions, regardless of gender. If passed, the Act would be a historic move in the fight for pay equity.

Senator Cantwell was quoted saying, “All Americans are proud to see U.S. athletes represent our country on the world stage, and all Americans should be assured these athletes are being compensated equally. Anything short of that sends exactly the wrong message across the world and here at home about the American commitment to equality and fairness. It is long past time for us to work together to right this wrong and get this done.”

A closer look at the Bill

The Bill would ensure equal treatment of athletes and rectify gender-based pay disparities by requiring equal pay regardless of gender. Per the Bill, equal pay encompasses compensation, benefits, medical care, travel, and reimbursement of expenses.

The Bill pertains to national governing bodies for over 50 sports. It also requires the U.S. Olympic and Paralympic Committee to hold them accountable with oversight investigations and annual compliance reports.

If passed, the Act would be implemented no later than Jan. 31, 2022.

The fight for equal pay on and off the playing field

The Equal Pay for Team USA Act joins in a wave of efforts to overhaul pay equity policies for female athletes in the U.S., including the introduction of the Even Playing Field Act.

An ongoing dispute between members of the U.S. Women’s National Soccer Team (USWNT) and their employer, the U.S. Soccer Federation, highlights the nuances around equal pay advocacy. In 2019, 28 current and former members of USWNT, including Megan Rapinoe, sued the federation on the grounds that they had been underpaid when compared to their male counterparts.

The case was dismissed in court, but the team appealed the ruling, arguing the judge had used the wrong standard to determine equal pay and “penalized” them for their success on the field. The lawsuit has gained national attention. Most recently, women’s apparel company Title Nine, donated $1 million to USWNT in response to the team’s case dismissal.

Basketball athletes are championing the issue of pay equity as well. Last year, the Women’s National Basketball Association announced a deal to increase player pay, guarantee full salaries during maternity leave, and other benefits.

The advancement of equal pay transcends the realm of athletics. It’s gaining traction internationally, with countries across the globe rewriting legislation to close the gap in all sectors. Efforts are taking off locally here in the U.S., and it’s only a matter of time before federal legislation bolstering the Equal Pay Act joins the conversation. A demonstrable commitment to equal pay will be standard for U.S. workplaces before we know it, and employers should approach the initiative proactively.

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