Better pay in the WNBA a tricky question that might not yield most popular answer.

  • WNBA players want more of the pie. They get roughly 20 percent of WNBA revenues while NBA players get about 50 percent. To supplement their incomes, WNBA players feel compelled to play basketball year round by heading overseas in the offseason. That puts stress on the body and can cause serious injury, such as the Achilles tendon rupture that was suffered by WNBA MVP Breanna Stewart earlier this month in the EuroLeague championship.

    WNBA players want more of the pie. They get roughly 20 percent of WNBA revenues while NBA players get about 50 percent. To supplement their incomes, WNBA players feel compelled to play basketball year round by heading overseas in the offseason. That puts stress on the body and can cause serious injury, such as the Achilles tendon rupture that was suffered by WNBA MVP Breanna Stewart earlier this month in the EuroLeague championship. Associated Press

 
 
Updated 4/26/2019 6:39 PM

Most wage studies in the United States indicate that women typically earn 80 percent of what men make. Eighty cents for every dollar.

For doing the exact same job, and for providing the exact same value, for the exact same company.

                                                                                                                                                                                                                       
 

That's illegal in this country. Period.

But it happens, and it will continue to happen until women stand up for themselves and demand equal pay.

I am all for that, so I understand where WNBA players are coming from in taking issue with their pay.

They feel undervalued. But, in terms of cold, hard economic facts, are they?

This is a difficult and sensitive topic for those of us who appreciate female athletes and champion equal pay for women, but who also value the solvency of professional women's sports leagues, specifically the WNBA.

We've been hearing more and more about this issue recently due to a catastrophic injury suffered by reigning WNBA most valuable player Breanna Stewart.

Stewart was playing in the EuroLeague title game earlier this month when she landed on the foot of fellow WNBA star Brittney Griner and ruptured her right Achilles tendon.

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Now, the WNBA will be without its brightest young star for the entire 2019 season, which starts in late May. Many WNBA fans are connecting the dots between this key injury to Stewart and others like it over the years to the relentless overworking of WNBA players' bodies.

If WNBA players were paid better by the WNBA, the logic goes, perhaps they wouldn't feel compelled to go overseas during the off-season and continue the physical pounding in order to supplement their incomes.

WNBA players typically make more money overseas to play from approximately November to May, but they do so at the risk of playing year-round and never resting their bodies.

Hence, they are susceptible to serious, career-threatening injuries of Stewart proportions.

Median salaries in the WNBA are around $72,000 per season while rookies start out at around $50,000. Players in the EuroLeague can start as high as $100,000 per season and superstars such as Diana Taurasi, who is also out to start the WNBA season due to a recent spinal surgery, have made more than $1 million per season overseas.

                                                                                                                                                                                                                       
 

For comparison, no NBA players play year-round to supplement their incomes.

The minimum salary of an NBA player is just shy of $600,000 per season, while top players such as LeBron James are taking home staggering money, more than $36.5 million per season in his case.

Top WNBA players take in about $100,000 per season.

Those numbers tell a stark story, and they explain the frustration of WNBA players.

And yet, WNBA players are not demanding pay that is equal to their male counterparts in the NBA. They know a comparison between the WNBA and the NBA is apples to oranges.

Technically, WNBA players are doing the exact same job as their male counterparts in leagues that are affiliated with each other: they are playing professional basketball in front of paying customers, and in most cases under the same NBA umbrella.

However, WNBA players know that they are not providing the exact same value, monetarily at least, as NBA players. Not by a long-shot.

NBA teams are cash cows generating billions and billions of revenue, upwards of $10 billion per season.

Some WNBA teams struggle to make ends meet. Some are reportedly losing money and staying afloat thanks only to help from the NBA.

So WNBA players don't expect LeBron James-type money. What WNBA players do want is a bigger piece of the WNBA pie.

NBA players split revenue with the league and its ownership equally, roughly 50/50.

Estimates about WNBA players' share in their league revenues (much of which comes from national television contracts) are at about 20 percent.

WNBA players don't like that disparity.

Of course, 50 percent of billions and billions is certainly enough to make both the owners and players of the NBA happy while leaving plenty of money in the coffers for league and franchise operating expenses.

Twenty percent of an entity that is struggling to make payroll in some cases is probably stretching it thin already.

That leaves WNBA players in a tough position, without much leverage, and yet they have taken the first steps in standing up for themselves by opting out of their current collective bargaining agreement. They will look for a new deal at the end of the 2019 season.

Good for them for standing up. But, and this is a big but, the stand they are taking could put subsequent WNBA seasons in jeopardy.

Would the WNBA shut down for a summer or two if the sides can't agree on a new deal? Would it shut down forever?

And that begs this question: is playing for less of the pie than you think you are worth better than playing for none of the pie at all?

I get what WNBA players want, and what they think they deserve. But I also think they need to tread lightly and think of alternative solutions.

The WNBA can only do so much, and pay out so much of the pie...and still exist.

First of all, WNBA players can take solace that their salaries aren't completely terrible, in comparison to salaries across the country, when you look at the numbers in this way: the WNBA season includes 34 games, over the course of roughly four months.

For players at the top of the pay scale earning about $100,000 per season, that equates to a job that pays $300,000 per year.

I would take that. I would gladly take that. I would take just the $100,000. I'm sure many other Americans would, too.

Even WNBA rookies who get paid about $50,000 for four months of work are making the equivalent of $150,000 a year. Pretty good.

That kind of money in that amount of time still offers some security and flexibility for WNBA players, who have eight months of the year to find other opportunities to make additional income.

Other opportunities besides playing basketball. Yes, besides basketball.

Who says that WNBA players need to keep playing basketball all year long anyway?

Despite the more lucrative contracts overseas, most WNBA players value playing in the WNBA because the WNBA is considered the most competitive league in the world and WNBA players, mostly American, like being able to play in front of friends and family while living at home.

So, play in the WNBA, but look to do other things in the offseason that keep money coming in, but won't tax the body.

Perhaps WNBA players can negotiate with the WNBA that part of their next contract should include off-season job placement with corporate sponsors of the league, or with NBA teams as paid coaches and team personnel.

Teaching and coaching at the high school and college levels would also be a good fits for offseason jobs.

Most WNBA players are college graduates and worthy of many jobs in corporate/grassroots America. Most will need to work after their professional basketball careers are over anyway.

Why not get a head start during the offseason in a career that will carry them beyond basketball, and be forgiving to their bodies in the meantime, during their basketball careers?

WNBA players aren't wrong for wanting more. No woman is.

But maybe more in this case can come in a different form, in a way that will make WNBA players feel valued and financially secure, but will also keep the WNBA's lights on.

pbabcock@dailyherald.com

Follow Patricia on Twitter: @babcockmcgraw

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