Only one woman made Forbes‘ list of the world’s highest-paid athletes: Serena Williams.
The 23-time Grand Slam champion became the sole female sports star to crack the magazine’s top 100, which annually tabulates the industry’s leading earners, including prize money, salaries and endorsements.
Combining all of this year’s earnings, the athletes raked in a collective $4 billion — up 5% from the prior year. Endorsements appeared to fuel much of those gains, with sponsor-driven profits rising 12% from the past year to $987 million.
It was Williams’ second time in the previous three years to land the list. In her absence, no female athletes qualified for last year’s ranking; the 37-year-old took a 14-month hiatus from the sport due to her pregnancy and the birth of her first daughter, Alexis Olympia Ohanian Jr.
On an income of $29.2 million in 2019, Williams tied for the 63rd spot with Detroit Tigers first baseman Miguel Cabrera. She also took home $4.2 million in winnings and $25 million through off-the-court ventures, with more than a dozen brand partners including Nike, Wilson Sporting Goods, Audemars Piguet and Beats by Dre.
Beyond her lucrative sponsorship deals, the tennis star also launched her namesake direct-to-consumer clothing line and continues to invest in startup companies through her eponymous venture capital fund, which supports female- and minority-founded businesses. (Williams also recently became the first athlete to make Forbes‘ annual list of the world’s wealthiest self-made women.)
That Williams is the lone woman on the media outlet’s highest-paid athletes list is a testament to the progress that has yet to be made in the sports industry with regard to pay equity. Female athletes are generally paid significantly less than their male counterparts; 71% of the world’s top 100 male tennis players, for instance, earned more than women of the same ranking in the first half of 2018, according to data compiled by British publication The Guardian.
Some athletes in different sports have made their voices heard. In March, the United States Women’s National Team — the best women’s soccer team in the world — filed suit against the U.S. Soccer Federation, alleging gender discrimination and unequal wages. (Unlike the men’s team, which failed to qualify for the 2018 World Cup, the USWNT has claimed three Women’s World Cup titles as well as four Olympic women’s gold medals, among other honors.)
“I think we realize the opportunity we have and the resources we have are due to the generation before us, and we hope to increase those opportunities and resources available for the generation after us,” striker Alex Morgan said in an April interview with Reuters. “We might not see equal pay among athletes within our generation, but the hope is that the future generations will.”
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