Matthew D. LaPlante: Hey caveman, put your money where your mouth is on women’s sports

(Francisco Seco | AP Photo) United States' Megan Rapinoe, center, holds the trophy as she celebrates with teammates after they defeated the Netherlands 2-0 in the Women's World Cup final soccer match at the Stade de Lyon in Decines, outside Lyon, France, Sunday, July 7, 2019.

Gordon Monson is wrong about a lot of things, a lot of the time. But The Salt Lake Tribune sports columnist isn’t wrong about how women soccer players should be paid.

His argument (“Hey all you Cro-Magnon men out there, including here in Utah, pay the U.S. women’s team — and all women — the equal salaries they earn,”) is that the U.S. Women’s National Team (recent winners of a fourth World Cup) should be compensated as much as the men’s side (which has an 8-win, 6-tie, and 19-loss record in all-time World Cup play.) What a hot take.

“Uh-oh,” Monson self-chided after bringing up the fact that women everywhere, and especially in Utah, get paid less than men, “we’re getting political here.”

If by “political,” Monson meant “controversial,” he’s not even close. The overwhelming majority of Americans believe the wage gap should be closed. In a poll on the issue earlier this year, SurveyMonkey found just 4 percent of respondents believed men should get more than women. These, presumably, are the Cro-Magnon men to whom Monson was preaching.

But caveman, club thyself. According to The Tribune’s online archives, Monson has penned 40 columns since April 10. Of those, just one — his recent lament that women aren’t compensated the way men are — was about women athletes. While six local athletes from the Utah Royals, including three on the U.S. National Team, prepared for and competed in France, Monson wrote column after column about professional men’s basketball, and none about professional women’s soccer.

In fairness, one of those basketball stories was focused on a woman. It was a tribute to the long-time gatekeeper of the Utah Jazz media room, Sylvia Orton. But that story wasn’t about a woman athlete, it was about a woman who works for a men’s team.

While few journalists with such a poor record when it comes to gender balance would be so bold as to preach to other men about treating women equally, Monson isn’t alone in his hypocrisy. Nearly everyone in the media is complicit. That includes me. As a reporter for The Tribune covering local police agencies and the U.S. military from 2004 to 2011, I should have worked harder to balance my reporting with the voices of more women.

The solution to pay equity in professional sports might indeed be “complicated,” as Monson suggests. But the solution to equity in reporting really isn’t so tough at all.

Last year, Atlantic science reporter Ed Yong revealed he had fixed the gender imbalance in his stories after learning that less than a quarter of his quoted sources had been women. The secret? Just try. My research-themed radio program, UnDisciplined, just celebrated its one-year anniversary on Utah Public Radio. Half of the guests on our weekly show have been women. I report this not to boast — I have a lot of work to do when it comes to achieving a balance that reflects the rich diversity of our world — but rather to point out that, when it comes to gender, it’s really not that hard. We just tried. Monson should try, too.

The Jazz is the undisputed biggest show in Utah. There has been no professional women’s basketball team in the state since 2002. Fair enough. Cover the heck out of the Jazz.

After that, the imbalance stops making much sense.

There are two top-tier professional soccer franchises in Utah. The teams aren’t treated equally by The Tribune, but for the paper’s sharp soccer reporter, Alex Vejar, about one in every three articles is about the women’s side. That’s a commendable start. Vejar, at least, seems to be trying.

Equal numbers of men and women play college sports. Equal numbers play high school sports.

It might be funny to think of Monson as a caveman, sticking an accusatory finger at other cavemen, but the image is useful, too. The cavemen evolved, after all. Monson should, too.

(Courtesy of BenBella Books | Keith Johnson Photography) Author Matthew D. LaPlante stands in Big Cottonwood Canyon near Solitude in 2018.

Matthew D. LaPlante is an associate professor of journalism at Utah State University and the author of “Superlative: The Biology of Extremes.” He recently returned from the FIFA Women’s World Cup in France, where he and his family attended nine matches, including games featuring every Utah Royals player on a national team roster.