By Nancy Armour |
Stacy Lewis is a two-time major champion, a 12-time winner on the LPGA Tour and she came this close to winning the bronze medal at the Rio Olympics.
Yet her legacy might very well have nothing to do with her accomplishments on the golf course. And she’s OK with that.
More than OK, in fact.
Lewis’ main sponsor, KPMG, is paying the golfer the full value of her contract this season despite the fact she’s going on maternity leave next month. It’s a groundbreaking move, one Lewis said she hopes will set a precedent.
“A lot of people were shocked to learn that that had never happened before,” Lewis said Wednesday, a day before the start of the KPMG Women’s PGA Championship. “But at the same time, it was, ‘Well, why don’t they do that?’
“More than anything, it brought attention to it, and that’s the goal. That’s why I put it out there. I didn’t necessarily want to put it out there, but the more I thought about it, I was like, this could bring about some change, and we need to get it out there.”
Gender equity in sports isn’t just about playing opportunities and paychecks. It’s also about female athletes not being forced to choose between motherhood and their playing careers, and having the support that makes it possible. Anything less is as much a limitation as telling women they’re too weak, too fragile, too feminine to play sports, and female athletes are increasingly willing to take up the fight.
Earlier Wednesday, Wimbledon announced that Serena Williams would be seeded 25th despite being ranked No. 183 in the world after taking more than a year off for the birth of her first child, daughter Olympia. The return of the 23-time Grand Slam champion has sparked debate over whether seedings should be protected during maternity leave, much like positions in other industries are.
While seedings aren’t an issue for Lewis, there were other considerations when she learned she was pregnant with her first child, a daughter due Nov. 3. Most contracts require a player to play a certain number of events, and adjust pay accordingly if she doesn’t. Lewis already knew she wouldn’t play the full season, meaning she had six months to earn what she normally would in 11. (There are no tour events in December.)
“There was some pressure there to make sure you can cover expenses and pay for your caddie and all that kind of stuff, which I had never really had to think about before,” Lewis said. “So what KPMG did just made all of that easier, and it took a lot of the pressure off for me trying to play right now.”
The best part is that Lewis didn’t even have to ask.
A few days after Lewis told KPMG she was pregnant, she got a call telling her CEO Lynne Doughtie had decided the full value of the contract would be honored, regardless of how many events Lewis played. In the eyes of Doughtie, a working mom herself, Lewis was no different from any other KPMG employee on maternity leave.
“They’ve felt from the get-go that I’m a part of their company. I’m a part of what they do, and they wanted to treat me like that,” Lewis said. “It 100 percent came from them.”
Lewis said she raised the idea with her other sponsors, and some have followed KPMG’s lead. She declined say which ones, saying they don’t want to be identified. Which is a surprise. Standing up for equality and valuing working women — heck, valuing all women — should be a point of pride, not something to do on the sly.
More importantly, it should be the norm.
“There’s a lot of women on this tour that basically have to say, `I’m willing to give up all of my income this year to have a baby,’ and that’s a hard decision to make for a lot of people,” Lewis said. “I hope (this) changes things.”
And if her role in making that happen is what people remember her for, Lewis will be just fine with that.
“My greatest hope is that my daughter, when she’s 18 and 20 years old, doesn’t have to talk about making the same amount of money as her brother or her friend would,” Lewis said.
There is a dollar value to Lewis’ contract with KPMG. But the message it sends about equality is invaluable.
This article was republished with permission from the original author and 2015 Ronald Reagan Media Award recipient, Nancy Armour, and the original publisher, USA Today. Follow columnist Nancy Armour on Twitter @nrarmour.