Olympic Boxer Claressa Shields on Pay Discrepancy for Female Athletes: 'It's Mind-boggling'

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Eric Todisco
·3 min read
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Good Morning America/Twitter Claressa Shields

Like many female athletes, Claressa Shields is fighting for pay equity between men and women in sports.

The Olympic boxer-turned-MMA fighter, 26, appeared virtually on Good Morning America Tuesday and spoke to co-host Michael Strahan about how sexism is still prevalent in the male-dominated sport of boxing.

"It's just an unfair playing field," said Shields. "The pay discrepancy. It's mind-boggling to me because there's not a boxer, male or female, who has accomplished what I've accomplished. There are a lot more changes that need to be done."

Shields, the first undisputed champion in two different weight classes during the four-belt era, shared with Strahan, 49, the advice she has for other women in similarly male-led sports. "Be the woman who you want to be," she said. "Sometimes they put us in this box and they say, 'This is what a woman is.' Skinny, petite, straight hair and they put you in this box and it's so shallow."

"I think people are used to women being told what to do and not doing what they wanna do," added Shields. "It kind of makes them uncomfortable and makes them feel intimidated. That's my advice to the women. Do you boo."

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RELATED: Olympic Athlete Claressa Shields Became a Fighter to Fulfill Her Dad's Pre-Prison Boxing Dreams

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Late last year, Shields signed a "lucrative" multi-year deal with the MMA's Professional Fighters League (PFL) to begin her martial arts career. The decision, Shields said, was largely due to the impact of the ongoing COVID-19 pandemic.

"Going through the pandemic, it was a depressing time for me," she told Strahan. "I wasn't in the ring, I had gained a whole bunch of weight. I accomplished everything in boxing and in my mind I'm just like, 'I think it's time to try MMA.' "

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Speaking to PEOPLE in December, Shields said that despite her deal with the MMA, she still plans to continue boxing, calling the sport her "first love."

"I'm still going to box. With me going to MMA, people would think or they keep kind of saying that I'm retired or something, but I'm not retired from boxing," she said. "I'm still going to box and the overall goal is to be a world champion in boxing and be a world champion in MMA at the same time."

Gregory Shamus/Getty Claressa Shields

RELATED: Olympic Boxer Claressa Shields Signs Multi-Year MMA Deal: 'I Want to Test Myself'

The athlete — who made history as the first American woman to win gold in boxing and the first American boxer (male or female) to win gold in back-to-back Olympic Games (2012 and 2016) — also told PEOPLE that she believes she's more than capable of becoming a champion in both boxing and the MMA.

"If I can't do it, it just can't be done. If Claressa Shields can't do it, nobody else can do it, because I'm a once in a lifetime kind of athlete," she said. "So that's the overall goal."