Filmmaker, Players Discuss Challenges Facing Women's Professional Soccer

Jun Stinson showed her film, The 90th Minute, and moderated a panel with professional women soccer players at Dougherty Valley High Friday night.

Strides have been made in financial equality between men and women over the decades, but maybe in no other profession are the salary gaps between the two sexes more stark than professional athletes.

That was one of the themes at 's library Friday night, when filmmaker Jun Stinson showed her documentary on women's professional soccer, The 90th Minute, and the panel discussion that followed.

Stinson's documentary focuses on three players — Ali Riley, Kim Yokers and Rosie Tantillo — on the now defunct professional women's soccer club, the FC Gold Pride. The trio have lived similar lives, playing the sport they love since young girls and having successful collegiate careers before turning professional.

But though they are some of the best on the planet in their profession, they struggle to make soccer a career. The pay is around $30,000 and job security is almost non-existent, which was highlighted last week when Women's Professional Soccer, the top women's league in the world, cancelled its 2012 season.

After the film, Stinson moderated a panel with three professional soccer players and an assistant coach from the University of California, Berkeley.

Jennifer Ruiz, who just a week earlier was representing Mexico in Olympic Qualifying, took a seven-year break from the sport, becoming a mother of two, before restarting her career.

"If I was a man, playing at this level, I could do this and easily support my husband and two children," Ruiz said. "But, for women, that's not possible right now."

Dania Cabello, who played for Santos (the club Pele played for in Brazil) talked about the sacrifices women soccer players make to play professionally.

While at Santos, the women's team would have to practice on the sand, because the under-10 boys team needed the field. In the United States, Cabello said she had to share apartments, stuck babysitting at times, because she couldn't afford her own place.

"At some point you hope all the sacrifices will start to pay off," Cabello said. "It's just deeply disappointing."

The biggest problem women's professional soccer faces is financial. Attendance and money from sponsors and television is microscopic compared to men's leagues.

In the film, the players talked about how they were frustrated to play in front of small crowds, but hear parents tell them they appreciated their daughters had professional women players to look up to, though they weren't taking their daughters to games.

It's not impossible for a women's professional sports league to exist for more than a couple years. There are soccer leagues in Europe and the WNBA, the professional women's basketball league in the United States, has been around since 1997.

But those leagues are subsidized by professional men's leagues and would likely cease to exist without their financial assistance. Major League Soccer, the men's soccer league in the U.S., has yet to invest in a women's professional league.

More than 50 people, including many young girls and boys, watched the film and stayed for the panel discussion. Understandably, the young girls in the audience were more interested about what playing soccer in college is like, rather than the economic quagmire women's professional soccer finds itself in.

Tracy Hamm, an assistant with Cal's women's soccer team, emphasized that young players shouldn't solely be focused on playing Division I soccer, and for many playing at a lower division is in their best interest.

"I tell girls all the time that they could probably play (at Cal), but it might be better for them to be a superstar at Division II or Division III," Hamm said.

Though much of the night was spent talking about significant challenges women's professional soccer players face, it wasn't forgetten what makes being on a team so special.

"Sometimes, in our society, when women come together it's to have tea or go shopping," Cabello said. "But to have the chance to just go out and play with these physically strong and talented women ... it's like, 'wow' ... that's one of the greatest things about being a women's soccer player."

Beau Hunk February 13, 2012 at 12:00 AM
It should be no problem to increase the financial viability of women's sports. Just have the Obama administration mandate (i.e. force) people to purchase tickets to women's sports events. If forced medical insurance is constitutional,then this surely would be equally acceptable...
Sam Clemens February 13, 2012 at 03:19 AM
Let the states decide if they will mandate women's soccer tickets, whether to mandate green energy purchases by public utilities, Cadillac Heath care for all, carbon tax, prevailing wage on govt contracts, "right to work", offshoring or privitizing of prisons, parent choice in schools (vouchers). Please turn out the lights when you leave California.
Taj Laganj August 16, 2012 at 06:30 PM
Of course.....Only men responding with irrelevant, ignorant comments...only assumption that is easy to make here is that you have a mediocre mind with limited capacity to think critically and intelligently about something that is a but more complicated than you understand. There are more young girls involved in organized sport in the US than boys.....clearly needing to have equal scholarship opportunities to 1. get to college and 2. pursue professional athletic careers. You definitely are missing a lot, brother.
Sam Clemens August 17, 2012 at 05:21 AM
Taj U will notice no nasty language until u joined the discussion. So it sounds like u believe the government needs to intervene to ensure equal pay for equal work. E.g., WNBA vs NBA. Let's set up 3 WNBA teams in CA and payvthem like the 3 NBA teams from state coffers. The faster CA goes under; the faster it can be restructured into a viable economic entity. Bankruptcy.....bring it on.
Sam Clemens August 17, 2012 at 05:26 AM
OMG; the earthquakes make less than the warriors. Please have the state file a lawsuit to equalize pay for all. We need equal outcomes. It's just not fair that some should earn more than others. Let's set up a fair and impartial panel to make pay fair statewide. Makes sense?


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