In The Scope: Breanna Stewart Injury Exposes Inequity Inherent In WNBA

By Joshua M Hicks (@jhicks042)

Since its establishment in 1996, the WNBA has been an essential business, platform and community based on the advancement of the thriving woman athlete.

Fulfilling much of the promise of legislation, sacrifice and demonstration before it, the WNBA has fulfilled many women’s dreams of playing basketball at the professional level.

Former UCONN and current Seattle Storm star Breanna Stewart embodies so much of that promise and as one of the best women currently playing the game is looked up to as a role model and one of the faces of the WNBA’s franchises.

But one thing that may be overlooked is that Stewart, as a person who devoted herself to the game of basketball, does not only play in the United States and in the WNBA.

This week, that fact was made painfully aware to fans and followers of women’s basketball as a report of Stewart rupturing her right Achilles while competing in in Russia became public.

This injury has sparked much discussion regarding the plight of women athletes, basketball players in particular, who in so many cases have to go overseas to play mainly because of financial circumstances. Despite being a “sister” league to one of the most profitable sports entities in the world, the NBA, the athletes who fuel the WNBA are clearly in a place of second-class citizenry and have to expend a much greater effort throughout each year to gain just a fraction of the salary NBA players make while being afforded the luxury of only having to play in America.

The WNBA is on the verge of going into collective bargaining agreement (CBA) negotiations, so it was already a good time to address the financial disparities between our pro basketball leagues — Stewart’s injury just exacerbates the issue.

In the NBA, a player as good as Stewart — namely a defending champion, league MVP and Finals MVP — would be getting paid not to play the game of basketball and risk injury during an off-season. As a WNBA star if Stewart rested on her laurels and only played the four months or so afforded to her by the league, she would be far from ballin’ according to income statistics, she’d be squarely in the working class.

The minimum average salary for a middle-class household of one is $26,093 a year, boost that up to what’s considered average in an upper-class family and you’re at $78,281 a year. The upper class pay grade is not exactly matching the average salary of a WNBA athlete, but it is fairly close.

The average WNBA player makes close to $75,000, with only a few players making as much as $113,000. If you are not a top player that makes over $100,000, that is less than the average upper class income standard for a one person income. We must also not dismiss the fact that NBA players own half of the overall revenue of the league, compared to WNBA players, who own less than 25 percent of their overall league revenue, as reported by Forbes.

Reports have the average minimum salary for a player in the NBA at roughly $840,000 a year, a salary that is 10 times more than the average upper class income for one person. That is essentially enough money to live comfortably, take care of your bills, any debts you as a player may have and still have left over money to better take care of yourself in all facets.

Stewart made $56,793 in base salary last season with the Storm, earning bonuses of $15,000 for being MVP, $11,025 for winning the WNBA title, $10,000 for making all-WNBA first team and $2,500 for being in the All-Star Game. She was expecting to make $64,538 this WNBA season in base salary, according to ESPN.

From a professional athlete standpoint, comparing the pay scale of an average athlete between both leagues, with the WNBA (including playoffs) season being just about half of a NBA regular season and the shared revenue discrepancies inherent in that with lost ticket gates and much less television money earned, among other things, WNBA players of all skill levels basically have to take on second jobs in foreign leagues to truly take care of themselves and to be seen as true professional basketball players.

Phoenix Mercury star Brittney Griner said via Instagram post in response to WNBA players taking professional opportunities overseas to make more money, “I do believe we should get paid more in the WNBA before players decide to only play overseas and rest our bodies during the summer.”

Griner’s Phoenix teammate and fellow champion Diana Taurasi skipped a season in 2016 to play for a Russian team that offered more money and a contract that included her getting paid to rest her body in the summer, which is when the WNBA season takes place.

In August of 2018, WNBA president Lisa Borders said to the Huffington Post, “While I encourage WNBA players to speak out on issues important to them, it is equally important that they understand the realities of our business.”

Border’s statement is valid. In reality, the WNBA are not making nearly the same amount of money as an overall business compared to the NBA, so the money and revenue circumstances differ. However, NBA Commissioner Adam Silver has been outspoken in supporting the WNBA and his desires to help improve the revenue income.

It is time for him to put his money where his mouth is, like he historically does, step up and lead the charge in providing direction for real change within the WNBA. Otherwise, there will not be many woman athletes available to continue the league’s legacy. Past this season, with no progress, there may not even be a league.

 Joshua M. Hicks is a Senior Writer for WARR Media 
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