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This Woman’s Work: WNBA game forfeiture indicates continued issues with the gender pay gap

in Entertainment & Sports by

A gruesome travel experience for Women’s National Basketball Association’s (WNBA) team, Las Vegas Aces, prompted the professional women’s basketball franchise to cancel a crucial game last Friday against the Washington Mystics.

A first for WNBA history, the forfeiture cost the fairly new franchise that is ranked ninth, a chance spot in the playoffs which start August 19.

The WNBA has ruled the cancellation a forfeiture in favor of their competitors. The Washington Mystics went on to win a spot in the playoffs.

“While not ideal, it was the best available solution to accommodate both our fans and the scheduling challenges,” said WNBA President Lisa Borders in a statement. “Since the Aces chose not to play, the result is a forfeit.”

When their planned four-and-half-hour flight from Las Vegas to Washington D.C. turned into an ordeal lasting over a day, the Aces canceled, citing health concerns.

In a press statement, the organization explained:

Given the travel issues we faced over the past two days–25+ hours spent in airports and airplanes, in cramped quarters and having not slept in a bed since Wednesday night–and after consulting with Players Association leadership and medical professionals, we concluded that playing tonight’s game would put us a too great a risk for injury.

Aces coach and president of basketball operations Bill Laimbeer expressed disappointment following Borders and the WNBA’s’ decision. Yet, he states “our focus is now on winning as many games as we can in our drive for our first playoff appearance.”

Airplanes and shooting stars

Unlike the NBA league, the WNBA takes commercial flights. According to CBS, “NBA players get chartered planes with tons of room, have their bags handled for them (for the most part), have luxury buses take them to their five-star hotels and get the best in treatment and rest that can reasonably be afforded.”

The issue for many points back to gross economics differences between the leagues, and overall treatment of women pro-ballers versus men.

“The first thing you’ve got to start with is the sexism,” told Mikhail Furnace, a women’s college basketball official. “The concept that these women are going to be inconvenienced on their flight. Then right off the plane, they’re expected to jump into a game, and expected to play well. They would never ask that of a man. That’s society for you, and you can take sports out of it.”

The U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics (BLS) says that weekly earnings of women were just 82 percent of what their male colleagues earn as stated by August 2017 findings. Sports and entertainment are no different.

Although 2017 was one of their best years since 2011, the WNBA continues to struggle in paying players a reasonable/comparable salary. CNBC claims that WNBA players make about 20 percent of an NBA member’s pay.

In 2014, the WNBA signed an eight-year collective bargaining agreement. It clarifies, “The Salary Cap for the Salary Cap Year commencing on January 1, 2014 shall be nine hundred and one thousand dollars ($901,000).”

Whereas, first round WNBA rookie picks (numbers 1-4) may make anything from $52,564 to $67,020 in 2018. In the NBA, rookies who ride the bench may possibly make a minimum of $582,180 USD with a veteran player making a minimum of about $1.67 million USD.

Currently, the highest paid player in the NBA is Golden State Warriors’ Stephen Curry earning about $37 million this year alone, according to ESPN and multiple other reports. On the list of 385 players, the lowest paid title belonged to seven year baller and Boston Celtic point guard Brad Wanamaker just shy of one million at $838,464.

According to Basketball Insider is the Oklahoma City Thunder (OKC) with a salary of almost $150 million USD and the lowest being the Sacramento Kings at about $92 million.

May 24, 2018: Los Angeles forward Nneka Ogwumike (30) and Connecticut Sun forward Chiney Ogwumike (13) before a Sparks vs Sun WNBA basketball game at Mohegan Sun Arena

On the other hand, three-time WNBA Defensive Player of the Year for the Minnesota Lynx, and 2017 WNBA MVP, Sylvia Fowles made $109,000, according to Forbes. The year before, Los Angeles Sparks forward and crowd favorite, Nneka Ogwumike, only made 95,000 in her 2016 WNBA MVP year according to Net worth Tomb. Reportedly, only making $15,000 more in 2018 at $110,000.

To add, NBA players take home 50 percent of the league’s revenue. The WNBA ballers, with significantly less teams, get about 25 percent.

With the forfeiture penalty, after experts cited physical risks, Furnace, adamantly explains, “the last thing that a WNBA player can risk is getting hurt. Unlike men’s basketball, at the end of the season, [the men] take vacations. For women’s basketball, they go overseas and play ball because they can make more money. They’re much more respected and compensated in Europe. They put them up [for lodging] and they get a per diem. Depending on your status, you really can get paid.”

Ironically, many women basketballers fly to play overseas in order to supplement their income in places like Russia, Turkey, or South Korea. The women make anything from 40,000 to upwards of $600,000 USD in additional income according to ESPN.

This rivals an average of 59,000 for school teacher pay checks, according to 2017 data compiled by the BLS.

As the women of the WNBA still fight among possible fans for good sits on commercial flights, the 30 teams in the NBA fly in style and comfort. Airline companies like Delta, the largest NBA charter operator, accommodate the needs of almost 27 squads.

“While last season’s $65 million in NBA flying was a fraction of 1 percent of Delta’s sales, the business helps boost profit and showcases the carrier for an elite audience.

All is Unfair in Love and Basketball

Lives for parents on the WNBA compared to the NBA are often unaccounted for said Furnace who saw players juggle parenthood and career.

“In this country, women are often the primary caretakers of their family. Some of these women are mothers. [Between] the regular stressors of the game, players worry about your kid. Making arrangements with your family when plans get mess up, these are things that fall often on women that men don’t have to worry about in the NBA. And just like the men, they take care of families too. The least that can be done is to work around that.”

After the Aces’ forfeiture, the team also lost its playoff seat. Aces guard, Kayla McBride, remarked of the Vegas-Washington debacle,  “That’s in the past. We made that decision as a team the other day. We’re here now and we were focused on Atlanta. It is what it is. We stand by our decision.”

*Kaia Shivers contributed to this story

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Yolanda Aguilera focuses on culture, policy, and Afro-Latinidad.

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