ENCINITAS — Former Encinitas Councilwoman Tasha Boerner Horvath has introduced a bill in the state legislature that would mandate female athletes receive equal prize money for athletic competitions held on state lands.
State Assemblywoman Boerner Horvath (D-Encinitas) introduced Assembly Bill 467 on Feb. 11, which would require pay equity for female and male competitors as part of the permit and land lease requirements for contests held on state beaches, parks and other resources, potentially impacting hundreds of events statewide, Boerner Horvath said.
On Thursday, Boerner Horvath, fellow assemblywoman Lorena Gonzalez (D-San Diego), and several pioneers in the field of gender pay equity in athletics — including Carlsbad Councilwoman Cori Schumacher — touted the bill in a news conference held in a restaurant across the street from Cardiff State Beach.
“I really feel when we are on California public lands, I feel that our laws and our legislation has to reflect our values, and those values are equity, equality and inclusion,” Boerner Horvath said.
Gonzalez, who chairs the state assembly’s select committee on women in the workplace, said that female athletes sometimes slip between the cracks of the discussion on gender pay equity because their workplace isn’t a traditional setting, where such discrimination would not be tolerated in today’s climate.
“So often when we are doing that we think of traditional workplaces, and we don’t think outside of those lines,” Gonzalez said. “And so when we are talking about the sports industry, those are outside those lines, and ones that are easily dismissed, dismissed by our colleagues, dismissed by the media and by our notions of what equality means. So I think this opens that up to a whole new level of what a workplace is and what serves as equality.”
The new bill would memorialize a decision made in 2018 by the California Coastal Commission and State Lands commission to require prize equity as part of their land lease and permit process.
A group called the “Committee for Equity in Women’s Surfers” successfully lobbied both state agencies to require The Mavericks Challenge, held at Mavericks Beach in Half Moon Bay, to pay female prize winners the same as their male counterparts.
The speakers on Thursday evoked the legacy of Title IX, the landmark federal law that banned sex-based discrimination in school athletic participation, arguing that the bill was a natural extension of that legacy.
“With Title IX, women felt empowered and started asking, ‘Hey, can I have one of those college scholarships too?'” said Patti Paniccia, a pioneer in women’s big-wave surfing who co-founded the women’s division of the International Professional Surfers organization, and is now a law professor. “But Title IX only applies to school-funded programs. But with Title IX setting the stage and Billie Jean (King) stepping out on the tennis court, we were inspired everywhere, we protested, we met with potential corporate sponsors, we engaged contest promoters, we went to the media telling our story.”
Female athletes have historically earned a fraction of what their male counterparts earn. In events like big-wave surfing, triathlons and cycling and skateboarding events — often held on public facilities — the discrimination went beyond pay, which was one-tenth of that of males, speakers said.
Female surfers were granted opportunities based on their looks and sponsors often objectified the women.
“Once in response to a newspaper article in which I desperately asked for sponsorship money the only answer I got was from a company called Candy Pants, edible underwear,” Paniccia said. “I turned them down. And I’ll never forget the very first question a report asked us on tour, ‘Have you ever surfed naked?'”
Boerner Horvath said that she believed this bill would expand opportunities for female athletes because they would be assigned equal value to their male counterparts.
“I think that what we are going to see is more women being involved in athletics, because … how much money we assign something that’s what gives the value to it,” she said. “When two athletes are paid the same amount, and are valued the same amount, then the sponsorships will come. When they are paid with the disparity that was spoken about today, then that reinforces that those sponsorships aren’t as valuable.”
When asked if they expected opposition to the bill, Boerner Horvath and Gonzalez said they didn’t expect a public push back, but “behind the scenes,” maneuvering and questioning of the bill.
“We see this often when there’s something that has broad public support, because quite frankly, people are afraid to piss off a bunch of women and they should be, because the reality is that corporations and sports conglomerates don’t want to upset a whole host of women who are consumers and are participants,” Gonzalez said.
Gonzalez said there might be questions as to whether this bill would serve as a springboard into broader discussions about pay in other athletic fields.
“And Tasha and I would say absolutely,” she said. “We are starting with state lands because it makes the most sense, we want to start the conversation because, quite frankly, we would not put up (pay discrimination by gender) in any other field. We would be outraged, and I don’t know why we should accept it for any sport in this state.”
Schumacher, a three-time world champion surfer who championed gender equity in pay and sponsorships in the World Surfing League, echoed the sentiments of her colleagues.
“I am so deeply grateful to Assemblywomen Boerner Horvath and Gonzalez for believing in this bill, for believing that our stories matter, that gender equity in sports is a worthy cause with far-reaching social impacts,” Schumacher said.