When two-time Olympic gold medalist and FIFA Women’s World Cup Champion Abby Wambach walked off stage at the 2016 ESPYS — where she received the prestigious Icon Award — she recalls feeling grateful. But she also remembers reflecting upon how different her situation was from that of the other retired athletes, Kobe Bryant and Peyton Manning, who were being honored that night. Due to the significant gender pay gap in sports, she would need to get a job to pay her bills; They would not.
A different retirement
“I was walking into a very different retirement than my fellow award winners, and I feel for all the other women in all the other industries who have earned less money because they were born a woman,” says Wambach, citing the generally held statistic that, on average, women are paid only 78 cents for every dollar men earn.
So when Wambach walked off that stage, she made a promise to herself to help improve the retirement situations of future female soccer players by speaking out against gender inequality in the industry.
“I think change has to happen, and the only way it can is to speak about the discrimination I experienced,” she says. That way, “other people can be aware of it, if they experience it, and do things now that will change their future.”
While Wambach, who played on the U.S. women’s national soccer team for nearly 15 years, never felt inhibited by her sex when it came to sport, she considers that personal mission imperative for improving the lives of future generations in women’s professional sport. In fact, she feels “it’s what life is all about.”
“I think the lesson that has sustained me in my career is the hope that I left the game better than I found it,” she says, “and that I inspired the people behind me to be better than me.”