Over recent decades, the world has made dramatic steps in equality and diversity. Today, it is standard practice in the US and across the globe for businesses to have policies embedded within their standard operating practices. Across most industries, even the idea of someone being treated differently or judged on the basis of their sex, sexuality or ethnicity is unthinkable.
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Sport’s regrettable record
We say “most” because there are still exceptions out there, and one area that can be clearly seen to lag behind the rest is the world of sport. In a study of 460 occupations, “professional athlete” had the largest pay gap, with men earning on average, 150 percent more than women.
Then there is the diversity question. Even in the US, with one of the most diverse populations on earth, we hear stories about people like Michael Sam, the first openly gay man to be drafted by the NFL. An anonymous NFL source said Sam’s decision to come out “would probably affect his chances of being drafted,” and after a season with the Rams, he left the game. This wasn’t in the 1970s or 80s, it happened in 2014. Imagine if someone said that about a candidate for any other job?
Having said that, some sports in particular are leading the way in promoting genuine equality.
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Tennis tackled the pay gap head on
In some sports, the women’s game has been established for far less time than the men’s so it is understandable that its profile is lower and there is less money to go around. Soccer and cricket are examples where women still lag behind, but the gap is closing as sponsors, promoters, TV networks and, most of all, fans get fully behind the women’s game.
However, sports like these have half an eye on tennis as the necessary end point. Here is a sport where the likes of Serena Williams, Kim Clijsters and Martina Navratilova have been just as famous and respected as Roger Federer, Pete Sampras or Boris Becker.
In 2007, Wimbledon, one of the most prestigious tournaments on the calendar, closed the gender pay gap forever, paying equal prize money to men and women. Other tournaments have yet to follow suit, and women in tennis still take home an average 80 percent of the men’s prize money, but it is one of the smallest gaps in sport and where Wimbledon has led, the rest will eventually follow.
Poker deals fair hands all round
Poker is a comparatively new sport, but in the years prior to the US WSOP capturing the attention of ESPN, it had decades of baggage. Watch depictions of poker games in old movies, and there is just as much testosterone and macho nonsense as you will find in any football locker room.
Yet the modern poker game has managed to dispel most of that. Sure, whisky-swilling cigar-chomping caricatures are still out there, but so are plenty of talented women players plus pros from diverse ethnic backgrounds and gay players like Vanessa Selbst, Ryan Laplante and Jason Somerville.
A major contributing factor is that the internet has made poker so accessible. In the pre-internet years, the only “in” was to take a seat at the table, back when the whisky-swilling and cigar-chomping was business as usual. When said whisky-drinkers and cigar-chompers are exclusively male, white and heterosexual, it can be a tough environment for anyone who doesn’t tick all three of those boxes.
Learning one’s poker trade online is far less stressful and has made the game exponentially more accessible. Games like video poker provide the ideal first step, and players can then graduate to casino holdem, a game played against the dealer and not against other players as a next step. Casino holdem have become a huge favorite among aspiring poker players in the US over the past few years. If you are tempted to give it a try, check the best online casinos with live holdem and you can be playing poker against the dealer in a matter of seconds.
Plenty to be done
Full equality will not be achieved next week or even next year. When you look at the disproportionately small number of non-white tennis players or of gay baseball players, or the ridiculously low prize money awarded to female MMA fighters, you can see just how much there is to be done.
But the situation in 2023 is nevertheless far better than it was 20 years ago. Tennis and poker are two sport that can inspire the rest of the industry to do better.