Since its inception in 1997, the WNBA has provided a master class on how gender inequality manifests in the workplace. Players like A’ja Wilson and Kayla McBride have openly critiqued their paltry wages; four-time All-Star Skylar Diggins-Smith confessed to playing an entire season pregnant after receiving “no support” from her organization, and in 2018, the Las Vegas Aces were forced to forfeit a game—with playoff implications—over, of all things, flight accommodations. Simply put, the league has its shortcomings, but it’s nearly impossible for any professional athlete to thrive under such absurd conditions.
In an effort to correct course, or possibly just save face, ESPN reports that the WNBA and the players’ union have agreed to terms on a new collective bargain agreement that not only will include higher salaries but long overdue improvements in quality of life:
The WNBA and the players’ union have come to tentative terms on a new collective bargaining agreement that includes a significant salary bump for the league’s highest-paid players, going from an annual base salary of $117,500 to $215,000.
The new CBA also includes other cash compensation increases, changes to free agency, travel improvements, additional motherhood and family-planning benefits, enhanced marketing and career-development opportunities, and changes to revenue-sharing potential.
“We believe it’s a groundbreaking and historic deal,” WNBA commissioner Cathy Engelbert told ESPN. “I’m proud of the players; they bargained hard, they unified, they brought attention to so many important topics.”
Look, I’m here for the hurled confetti and champagne too, but it’s unfair to expect these players to be grateful for what’s still very much the bare minimum in comparison to the NBA and other professional leagues. Don’t believe me? Diana Taurasi, one of the greatest players in the history of the sport, sat out the entire 2015 WNBA season because UMMC Ekaterinburg, the Russian team she plays for during the WNBA’s offseason, told her to sit her ass down and rest. And she willingly complied because guess who was paying her 15 times her WNBA salary in their league?
Did I mention that as a reward for heeding their advice that they also paid her the money she would’ve made during that WNBA season too? Who in the hell turns that down?
“The year-round nature of women’s basketball takes its toll and the financial opportunity with my team in Russia would have been irresponsible to turn down,” Taurasi told Phoenix Mercury fans at the time in an open letter. “They offered to pay me to rest and I’ve decided to take them up on it. I want to be able to take care of myself and my family when I am done playing.”
The wage increase is just the tip of the iceberg, however, as players will now receive maternity leave with full salary, childcare stipends, workplace accommodations for nursing mothers, fertility treatment and adoption reimbursement, and other benefits that address the unique challenges WNBA players face, according to CNN.
“It is 2020,” Bitch Media Editor-in-Chief Evette Divone tweeted. “All WNBA players are finally earning six figures, moving from economy to economy plus when traveling, and receiving paid family leave. While this is progress, the overall devaluing of women’s sports is maddening.”
All in all, these terms are a step in the right direction, but for a league as progressive as the NBA purports itself to be, still fall well short of what such incredibly talented athletes deserve.