Allowing Candor on Tennis Pay Equality

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Here’s a confession: One reason I’m looking forward to the end of the legislative session in Rhode Island this year is that I’ll be able to clear out my news feed and stop paying such close attention to issues related to specific bills.  Near the top of the list of topics I’ll be happy not to watch so closely is the matter of “equal pay.”

It’s not that the question isn’t an important one to answer or that it doesn’t raise very interesting philosophical questions; the problem is that so few of the articles or essays that flit across my computer screen address the actual questions, much less the interesting ones.  The progressive assertions and statistics are simply taken at face value.  More than maybe any other issue I’ve followed, this one marches along with a moral certainty that never bothers to wonder why people would be doing things that would be obviously wrong if they were really doing them.

Tennis pro Rafael Nadal stumbled right into the path of this intractable march when he suggested, in response to a direct question, that the pay rates of men and women in professional tennis is “a comparison we shouldn’t even make”:

Female models earn more than male models and nobody says anything. Why? Because they have a larger following. In tennis too, who gathers a larger audience earns more.

Pause for a moment and put aside the identity politics and the ideological war.  When an athlete has a large audience, isn’t it reasonable for that athlete to receive more of the financial rewards?  Isn’t this the same as musicians or other performers?  If we take the identifying quality of sex out of it, nobody would be incensed that stronger, more-aggressive competitors attract larger audiences and more money.  Those who elevate a tangential quality are the ones bringing sex into it.

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I haven’t seen any indication that Nadal was saying that the pay difference is just the natural order of the universe and ought to be maintained as a matter of principle.  He was just making a plain statement of fact.  If the audience changes, then the pay should and will.  Anybody who wants to achieve a world in which people are as interested in female tennis as male tennis should work toward that end, but attacking it pay rate first sows division and is unfair to players currently in the game.



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