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Taylor Burton

Former University of Wyoming defender Taylor Burton dribbles the ball down the field in the Cowgirls' 2017 game against Boise State in Laramie.

The largest professional women’s sporting event in history, the 2019 Women’s World Cup, has kicked off in France. Droves of fans from around the world will congregate to witness countries play for the title of world champion.

And while I’m over-the-moon excited hoping that my Tobin Heath jersey arrives in the mail in time to watch the United States’ opening group stage match against Taiwan (Tuesday, 1 p.m. MT), I can’t help but be reminded how far things have come and how far we, as a society, have left to go.

Despite popularity and excitement for this tournament, inequality still exists. (If you don’t like that sentiment then, buddy, hold onto your hat.)

The most popular, and prosperous, women’s professional sport is the WNBA. Last year the league announced that attendance declined during the 2018 season and television viewership, hosted by ESPN on its family of networks, averaged 413,000. That’s compared to 1.46 million for a regular-season NBA game that same year. Those who choose to play in the WNBA — because their dream is the same as a lot of men’s, to play professional basketball — have an average salary of $79,000. That includes rookies, fresh college graduates, who are paid an average of $41,965. That forces a lot of players (more than half, according to the WNBA itself) to play overseas during the off-season.

Conversely, how many NBA players can’t afford to live on their salaries and have to travel to another country in order to afford a living?

What about the National Women’s Soccer League? It features a vast majority of the United States National Team, playing for their respective home clubs. Well, all the popularity in women’s soccer for the next seven weeks doesn’t increase the average pay for a NWSL player — $46,200, according to Reuters. The average for their male counterparts in Major League Soccer? A median $117,000 guaranteed.

And yes, I’ve gone this long without even bringing up the fact that the United States Women’s National Team is currently going against US Soccer Federation, alleging its players are being paid considerably less than their male counterparts. Instead of saying, “We’re sorry, our organization is essentially run by Don Draper,” US Soccer has decided to fight the allegations by arguing the two separate teams — and this is an actual quote — “receive fundamentally different pay structures for performing different work under their separate collective bargaining agreements that require different obligations and responsibilities.”

Yes. US Soccer’s defense is that women get paid less because their soccer is different from the men’s.

Think about high school volleyball, the second-most popular high school girls sport right now with 446,583 participants during the 2017-18 school year. The best go on to play in college, where their contributions and accolades are admired, but they have no professional league. So if someone can’t make the cut for the USA National Team, no more volleyball for them.

All right, I can imagine some eyes have glazed over by now, so let’s look at how this affects Wyoming and those in it.

Take former University of Wyoming soccer defender Taylor Burton. She earned Mountain West Defensive Player of the Year honors last season and anchored a strong Cowgirls’ team. She wasn’t chosen in the NWSL Draft, which consisted of 36 picks, so her dreams of playing professional soccer in her home country were dashed.

And, finally, there’s the case of inequality in high school sports in Wyoming. It’s because of this — a violation of Title IX of the Education Amendments Act of 1972 — some school districts have voted on adding softball, as the Star-Tribune has documented. Some school districts, however, have been less than receptive to adding another girls sport.

For those opposed to adding another girls sport — which would mean they’d have the same number as what is offered to boys — I’d like to ask why. School officials are the reason activities inequality has been a longstanding tradition. In the capital city of the Equality State, Laramie County School District No. 1 has dragged its feet on holding a vote. These adults, who routinely say their positions exist to help students, are doing a disservice to the next generation and are complicit in Title IX violation by allowing inequality to continue.

It’s not up to any Wyoming school board to pay the United States Women’s National Team. It’s not Wyoming’s problem that the WNBA can’t be on equal footing to the NBA, that Taylor Burton has been held out of professional soccer or that the United States doesn’t feature a professional league in one of its most popular sports.

But what those in Wyoming can do is address inequality inside its borders. And, frankly, it’s laughably insulting that those words are necessary in 2019 for a state that adopted the nickname of the Equality State over 100 years ago.

Give girls a chance. Support women’s sports at all levels. Don’t say you believe in equality, be a part of it. Or else tender your resignations and retire to the old boys club, desperately applying caulking to the cracks in the glass ceiling.

Follow sports reporter Brady Oltmans on Twitter @BradyOltmans

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Follow sports reporter Brady Oltmans on Twitter @BradyOltmans

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High School Sports Reporter

Brady Oltmans reports on high school and local sports. He joined the Star-Tribune in July 2016 after covering prep sports and college soccer in Nebraska. He also contributes to University of Wyoming sports coverage. He and his dog live in Casper.

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