Don Lemon got into a heated exchange with his CNN co-anchors Thursday morning after observing that male athletes earn more money than female athletes because men’s sports earn more money than women’s sports.
Lemon made his comments during a “CNN This Morning” segment on the pay gap between the US men’s and US women’s national soccer teams, frustrating his co-anchors Kaitlin Collins and Poppy Harlow, who argued that male athletes earn more because the media gives men’s sports a bigger platform.
Insisting, “I’m not a sexist,” Lemon gave the counterargument that our “capitalist society” benefits products that are in higher demand, in this case men’s sports, thus male athletes receive higher earnings.
The debate began in the middle of CNN data analyst Harry Enten’s explanation of the pay discrepancies between the two teams.
While noting that the US women’s national soccer team is more successful than the men’s, in terms of games won and having won multiple world cups – something the men’s team has yet to do once – Lemon argued that was irrelevant to the discussion of whether the women should be paid more.
The anchor interjected, “I know everyone’s gonna hate me, but the men’s team makes more money. If they make more money then they should get more money.” The two female co-anchors immediately bristled at his remark, and tried to interrupt him.
Before being completely talked over, he added, “The men’s team makes more money because people are more interested in the men!”
Harlow blamed “big media companies” for the lower popularity it women’s sports. She stated, “I have big issue with this, guys, WNBA – same thing’s happening to them. Until big media companies, big tech companies, advertisers invest and put them on their airwaves more and allow people to see it more and gain more fans, then you will push towards more equality.”
She added, “But if they are blocked in so many ways and not invested in as much, they don’t even have a shot.”
Lemon refused to back down. He prefaced his response, saying, “I’m not sexist. I grew up the only boy in a family of all women.” He then told Harlow, “I understand what you’re saying, but not everybody honestly has the same skill, not everybody has the same interest in the sport.”
He clarified, “I think that women should be paid more, I really do, but if the men –” Collins interrupted him, quipping, “You’re right that not everyone has the same skills cause the women are better skilled.”
Poppy applauded Collins’ joke, but Lemon dismissed it, saying, “Well the women are better skilled against better other women, but if the women played the men, they wouldn’t be winning the way that they win.”
A frustrated Harlow replied, “I’m not even going to get into that argument.”
After the commercial break, the three resumed their debate. Lemon continued defending his point: “So I’m just saying that if there is more interest in a men’s sport, the businesspeople, the people who make money off of sports, will put that on television because we live in a capitalist society. And if people are interested in that then there would be more attention and more money would be paid.”
Collins responded, saying, “Why is that what people are watching? It’s cause it’s what they’re used to watching. Why is it cause it’s what they’re watching? Because men were putting men’s sports on TV way before women’s sports.” Harlow approved of Collin’s claim, exclaiming, “Yes. Yes.”
She added, “So it’s this systemic, institutionalized thing.”