Just “plane” wrong: Women’s basketball’s frustrating struggle for equity

By Caleb Nguyen, Mar. 14, 2022

First class airplane seats are usually too expensive for most, yet some can afford the luxury. While higher priced, I can’t think of any airline seat that could cost half a million dollars, even if the seat itself was plated in gold.

That is, unless you’re in the WNBA.

Scrolling through my Instagram feed a few weeks ago, I read about a WNBA team being financially punished.  Such penalties of a high degree typically span from illegal activity that would compromise the integrity of the sport itself. The actual reason for penalty was team ownership chartering team flights to games and an off-season Napa Valley trip.

A $500,000 fine lobbied on the New York Liberty ownership group that simply wanted to provide better flights for its athletes to competitions and a team bonding experience speaks to the constant fight that women’s basketball continues to face.

I am dumbfounded because this problem shouldn’t even be a point of contention across any front. These women are among the best athletes in the world and leaving them to lesser quality in preparation for their occupations seems counterintuitive if your league wants to push for the best possible competition.

This ridiculous example isn’t just an issue exclusive to the WNBA either but speaks to a bigger conversation of the misogynistic elements that persist today.

Originally, the punishment against Liberty owners Joe and Clara Wu Tsai would have been termination of the franchise. After an appeal, the initial fine was lowered from $1 million to the eventual figure the Tsais had to pay for simply treating their athletes like the consummate professionals they are.

Sharon Wu | The Poly Post

For a league wanting its respect among the highest forms of its men’s counterpart, the fact that the collective bargaining agreement won’t allow its players to have comfortable flights makes no sense. This is far from being grounds to terminate a team.

Many of these women who are above average height need necessary accommodations that coach seats can’t provide. Why subject them to discomfort before such tense competition if the league wants the best basketball to be played in order to improve marketability and grow the league?

Many players reacted on Twitter, but one simple sentiment made by Liberty star Sabrina Ionescu resonates loudest: “What a joke.”

With women still making 16 cents less for every dollar a man makes in the United States as of 2020, the laughable reality of inequity that women face in every industry becomes less funny when livelihoods are at stake. When even the most successful of women are sacrificing more cents on each dollar, the joke that is a reality for these professionals makes even less sense.

While rookie NBA players who make a roster can expect a minimum salary of over $925,000 dollars straight out of college, the maximum WNBA player salary is just over $221,000 annually.

Suddenly, the quarters on the timer matter less than the quarter of salaries these women receive for the same profession. If this is truly the land of the free, how can a chartered flight cost twice as much as the maximum contract given to the best women basketball players in the world?

For the same profession, the worst player on an NBA roster makes over four times the money the best WNBA player can possibly make. While I understand that there is less money in the WNBA than in the NBA due to dismal marketing from the former, this is an unacceptable and utterly disrespectful fact.

Having already supplemented lacking salaries by playing overseas and even starting her own adult subscription page on OnlyFans to generate more income for herself, Los Angeles Sparks center Liz Cambage simply responded with three upside-down smile emojis on Twitter to the news about the Liberty.

With misogynistic comments on social media pages telling these women to “get back in the kitchen” or “make me a sandwich,”  Cambage resorting to capitalizing her sexuality simply plays into the depressing irony of the situation.

Rather than ogling at her amazing play on the court by paying for a seat in the arena, men are more inclined to pay for her suggestive photos.

If financial compensation was fair, these Olympic athletes among the best not just in the country but in the world, would not have to resort to these side jobs to get their due. Instead, they could continue their practice of being the best players they can be for their club teams and internationally without concern.

This monetary difference leads some WNBA players, like Cambage, to travel abroad of their own volition to play more basketball for more revenue in a calendar year as the WNBA offseason coincides with European regular season play.

Many of these players are currently signed to teams in Russia, and with current political dispute ongoing between Russia and Ukraine, players are now scrambling to return to the United States in fear of what might happen with such a fluid war situation.

The fact that WNBA players are even considering this to make up for lacking contracts that they play for is a testament to the failure of the WNBA. When a Russian war zone is a better financial alternative than the proclaimed “free world,” how free can the league proclaim to be?

Women’s collegiate basketball indicates that this isn’t strictly a professional issue either.

Just last year during the NCAAW March Madness tournament, women’s teams were given significantly less weight equipment in noticeably worse condition than the men’s teams in the same bubble setting.

When asked for reasoning for why women’s teams were not accommodated the same as the men’s teams in a similar environment, one NCAA representative had an appalling statement to justify such practices.

In a report from Molly Hensley Clancy of the Washington Post, an NCAA official told her that there was “not enough space” for a high-end weight facility in the bubble.

After a video surfaced of a barren area surrounding a full-sized court, the NCAA promptly responded by providing the proper equipment in quick succession.

It’s bad enough that the WNBA draft eligibility rules require women’s basketball players to play all four years of their academic scholarships as opposed to many prominent men’s college players declaring to be professionals after one year.

To not give these athletes the proper equipment during the biggest tournament of the season reiterates the shortcomings of women’s basketball in their aspirations to grow the popularity of the sport.

When you’re not providing the proper materials for college athletes to develop their skills at an earlier age, as better players joining the WNBA sooner would help their marketability, my conclusion is that the industry of women’s basketball is more prone to shooting themselves in the foot rather than shooting three-pointers.

While all these setbacks are detrimental to the hopes of increasing the notoriety for the WNBA, recent economic developments have been encouraging to these aspirations.

Whether the league can make good on those promises is yet to be seen, but one thing is clear.

The ball’s in their court.



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