San Diego Wave FC v NJ/NY Gotham FC - 2024 NWSL Challenge Cup
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HARRISON, N.J. -- The NWSL rang in its 2024 season on Friday with an unexpected opening act -- second gentleman Douglas Emhoff lighting an enlarged torch ahead of NJ/NY Gotham FC's 1-0 loss to San Diego Wave in the Challenge Cup.

It marked the latest stop on Emhoff's tour of sports arenas during his three-plus years in the role, but the Manchester United fan is not just using the gig to score premium seats to sporting events of his choice. A visit to Red Bull Arena tied into one of his big initiatives as the second gentleman: Tackling gender equities.

Emhoff has used women's sports as a tool to do so, and chiefly women's soccer, most notably leading the U.S. delegation at the Women's World Cup last year. Focusing on women's sports, he said, is a natural fit for the task at hand.

"Women's sports, it's a very public encapsulation of what's happening to every woman in every industry," the second gentleman told CBS Sports. "To be able to talk about the same issues of childcare and having to take leave and figuring out how to stay on the field while balancing a family, all these issues and being paid less, much less."

Despite noting the similarities between women's sports and other industries, his discussions with female athletes such as Alex Morgan and Lindsey Horan have opened his eyes on specific issues that they specifically face.

He lists the disparities he's heard about, "from how you train, how you travel, where you stay, the condition of the field, the level of coaching, the level of physical therapy, the level of the production values. ... It's not just the money," he noted.

"You're spending all this time and effort to make it to the elite level and then when your career's over, it's not like you're set up for life on the woman's side," he added.

Emhoff used his visit as a chance to take part in a roundtable discussion before the Challenge Cup match, where he and Wendy Chun-Hoon, the director of the women's bureau of the U.S. department of labor, spoke to industry experts about equal pay in women's sports. The chat included NWSL commissioner Jessica Berman, Gotham minority investor Carolyn Tisch Blodget, the club's general manager Yael Averbuch West and ex-player Mana Shim, now the head of U.S. Soccer's participant safety task force.

The second gentleman commended the direction the league is going in to level the playing field, and believes that ex-players rising into leadership positions is one of several initiatives that will move the needle.

"The teams, they need to have general managers like Yeal, who played. She was an elite player in the prior generation, and now she understands what it takes and what is needed."

Spotlighting the NWSL and women's sports as a whole, Emhoff admits, is a seamless way for him to leave the legacy as the United States' first -- but he hopes not the last -- second gentleman.

"[As] a man who had to step away from a high profile career as an entertainment lawyer, and did it gladly, to support the first woman vice president [Kamala Harris], this was, I think, a perfect issue to just highlight," he said. "I want to do things, using my voice, that will actually move the needle on something."