The WNBA Could Change History With a Long Overdue Bet on Women

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It looks like eventually women will start winning as much as men on and off the court.

After teams like the U.S. Women’s Soccer Team sued the soccer federation over pay equity, it seems that the time has come to finally recognize the achievements of hundreds of highly competitive female athletes who, despite performing better than their male counterparts at international events, are still undervalued, receiving salaries and benefits far below the standard.

“The women’s team has far exceeded the success of their male counterparts, who failed to even qualify for the FIFA Men’s World Cup in 2018,” says the Women’s Sports Foundation. “Meanwhile, the women have placed in the top three teams in every Women’s World Cup since 1991 (when the women’s tournament began) and has three titles. In the six Olympic Games that have included women’s soccer, the U.S. has captured four golds and a silver.”

In the discipline of basketball, the circumstances are pretty similar.

As reported by the New York Times, the WNBA players’ union has announced “a radical change” in financial compensation for athletes through “a tentative contract agreement that would sharply increase salaries and provide generous maternal benefits.”

Commissioner Cathy Engelbert announced the proposal, labeling it “a big bet on women.”

Although the contract has yet to be approved by the league’s board of governors and the union’s membership, the proposal would allow the best players to earn more than $500,000, “about triple last season’s ceiling and far more than had ever seemed possible since the league’s first season in 1997,” the Times adds.

Players such as A’Ja Wilson, Brittney Griner, and Liz Cambage have been spokespersons for the disparity between their salaries and those of the NBA, arguing that, to make a living from their passion, most players must split their time between domestic championships and off-season games abroad.

In a June 2018 tweet, Cambage claimed even NBA referees earned more than a WNBA player. “The 12th man on a NBA team makes more than a whole NBA team,” she added.

So far, and pending Engelbert’s proposed new contract, the maximum salary for a WNBA player can be around $115,000 for those who have been in the league for six years, while NBA entry-level referees earn $150,000.

In addition to the money, the new contract will provide: maternity leave with full salary, a dedicated space in arenas for nursing mothers, and a $5,000 child care stipend, according to the Times. “Veteran players would also be able to seek reimbursement for up to $60,000 in costs directly related to adoption, surrogacy, egg freezing, and fertility treatment.”

For Engelbert, this radical change is not only about justice, but a real investment.

“We believe this is the best deal to drive a return on investment during the term of this agreement,” Engelbert said. “But no doubt, a lot of these elements are setting up the future for the next generation of players to be in a great place for the current stars to leave behind a legacy for the next generation.”