Skylar Diggins, WNBA, EBONY
Credit: Skylar Diggins Instagram

Let’s just jump right into it: Ever since Eve ate that apple, women have been belittled and deemed inferior to men in every single aspect of society. 

Especially sports.

There is this persistent notion that women are less capable, less focused and determined when it comes to athletics. In addition, we’ve convinced ourselves that women sports, and therefore women in sports, are not entertaining and have no real market value.

Their play doesn’t matter, their stories don’t matter; they don’t matter.



“The thing that bothers me the most is the respect factor,” Las Vegas Aces Kayla McBride says. “In order to reach people who may not be very informed on the WNBA, you have to connect with them on a human level.

“What I try to tell them is, ‘Just get to know me. Get to know the businesswomen, the scholars, the authors, the women of this league. And come to a game. If you hate it, OK. But if you’ve never been to a game, you’re speaking about things you have no idea about.'”

Because of this belief system, in the WNBA, women get paid 22 percent of shared revenue within their league while NBA players receive 50 percent. For years, WNBA players have protested this wage gap only to be told that they don’t deserve to make as much money as their male counterparts. 

What a lot of people don’t understand, however, is that these women are not asking to be paid the same type of money as NBA players. They realize that the NBA has a much larger market and therefore the players will make more money.

What they are asking for is an equal percentage of revenue shared within their CBA. They are asking for the same level of respect the men get and a chance to prove they’re worthy, too. 

As ESPN’s Mechelle Voepel says, “Men’s pro leagues had to work to establish financial viability, but men didn’t face scorn, derision or resistance for simply being athletes.”

In an essay published last summer on Wealthsimple, Dallas Wings point guard Skylar Diggins-Smith spoke boldly on this topic:

“People try to hijack this issue and say that women’s basketball may not be as interesting a game, because they disparage women in sports, period. But we don’t even make the same percentage of revenue!”

Smith also pointed out that even though she was First Team All-WNBA, which goes to only five players, and was also a WNBA All-Star for the third time last season, there are NBA players who never see the floor and still get paid more than she does.

“I’m at a loss for words sometimes, talking about this. It’s unfortunate that men make more money for the same amount of work or even less work.”

In addition, while NBA players fly on charter planes and stay in lavish hotels, in the WNBA, teams fly coach and players who’ve been in the league for four years or less are required to share hotel rooms. Many of these women are also forced to play year-round, joining overseas teams to earn as much money as they can. 

Dallas Wings Liz Cambage had an amazing, record-breaking season this year, averaging 23 points (first) and 9.7 rebounds (second). However, last August she announced that she isn’t sure if she’ll return in 2019 because of the inadequate pay.

“I’ve said this many times: [The WNBA] doesn’t pay my bills … playing here doesn’t pay my bills. We make more money overseas. I’m ready to have next summer off and focus on getting a European contract where it’s 10 seasons here worth the pay.

“It sucks because I love to be here, I love to put the game out there, I love what comes with playing here. But at the end of the day, for my longevity, I worry about my body, my mind and my soul. I really don’t get paid enough to be beaten up every game. I’m not a WWE wrestler and that’s how it feels sometimes out on the court.”

Ultimately, there simply isn’t as much effort put into the women’s league. According to SB Nation’s Natalie Weiner, “The first game of the 2018 WNBA Finals was on the nearly-impossible-to-watch ESPNNews, and the league’s biggest stars consistently lament its poor marketing and media coverage.”

The most recent slap to the face happened just last week after the NBA G League announced that it would offer “select contracts” worth $125,000 to top-performing high school recruits. 

Essentially, this means that an 18-year-old recent high school graduate with no professional experience will make around $10,000 more in yearly salaries than a veteran on a WNBA team.

According to Voepel, “This season, the maximum veteran salary is $115,500, not including potential bonuses. The league minimum for a player with two or fewer years of service is $41,202; for three or more years of service, the minimum is $56,100. Rookies are on a scale from $40,000-$50,000.”

It also means that the NBA is more willing to invest in its G League, “a minor league of the men’s game with minimal opportunity for a direct return,” than the WNBA – despite the fact that the this league has more potential to grow.

According to Weiner, “ Viewership and interest grew this year despite the league’s built-in disadvantages — few national broadcasts, the challenge of selling players who work abroad for most of the year and play just 34 regular season games.”

If the NBA were to make a G League-level investment in the WNBA, she predicts, “Not only could the NBA effectively double its basketball talent pool, it can substantially grow its overall viewership with the continued promotion of another best-in-the-world basketball product to fans who never actually need to choose between following the NBA and the WNBA.”

At the end of the day, both the NBA and the WNBA are home to the world’s best basketball players. Period.

Unlike the NBA, however, these women’s paychecks don’t reflect their awesome level of play. Instead, they are treated like second-class athletes and soon will be paid less than inexperienced high school graduates playing in the NBA’s minor league. 

This issue is about more than money and goes much further than basketball. It’s representative of a long-standing struggle for equality and respect for all women. 

Fortunately, there are already players like Skylar Diggins-Smith speaking out and fighting this good fight. And as Maya Angelou says, “Each time a woman stands up for herself, she stands up for all women.”

 



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