During a conversation about how corporate sponsor Virginia Slims (a cigarette product from Philip Morris) advanced the cause of women’s tennis in the 1970s and why other women’s sports failed to similarly grow, Rosie Casals couldn’t contain her frustrations.
And her target was female CEOs.
“I wish more women who are in a place of power, CEOs of companies, hell they should be helping women’s sports, and women. and they don’t,” Casals said, pounding her fist on a table.
Casals would single out IBM president and CEO Ginni Rometty. In 2012, Rometty took over at IBM and traditionally the head of the computer giant would become a member at the famed Augusta National Golf Club, the site of The Masters.
However, Augusta National had never had women members. When Rometty took over IBM, it brought attention to Augusta National’s policy. But Rometty wouldn’t be extended her invitation until last year to become the third woman to join Augusta National after former U.S. secretary of state Condoleezza Rice and Darla Moore.
Casals felt Rometty should have turned her attention to supporting the LPGA and closing the gap between men and women when it comes to prize money. The first major on the LPGA Tour, the ANA Inspiration in Rancho Mirage, pays its winner $375,000. The winner of The Masters, the first major on the PGA Tour, earns $1.44 million.
In tennis, the men and women earn equal prize money at all four of its major championships, including this week’s US Open.
Tennis is the only sport where men and women are equal in terms of prize money and status.
When Casals and Billie Jean King and a group of women they called the Original 9 started professional tennis for women, they were upset about the pay disparity. In 1970, men were paid six times more than women, and one event was to pay the men 12 times more than the women, which upset King and Casals
The nine players signed $1 contracts to start the Virginia Slims Tour, despite threats that they would be banned from playing in the Grand Slam events.
Casals would win that very first tournament in Houston.
However, tennis is an exception. And that frustrates Casals.
Despite the success of women’s college basketball and the US National Team in soccer, the opportunities in professional sports are well behind the men.
But there is a growing number of women who are taking over major corporations, such as Oracle, Yahoo!, Pepsi, Xerox, Lockheed Martin, Hewlett-Packard, General Dynamics and General Motors.
Casals would like to see some of those corporate dollars help promote women’s sports and provide more opportunities.
“That is what really pisses me off, when women don’t help other women when they are in a position of power,” Casals said. “I need to see that, more women stepping up to the plate. We have a lot of catching up to do.”