While WNBA players were able to receive a modest salary increase in the 2019-20 season, the bump up has yet to give way to the opportunity of true equity. This has proven to be particularly true when their male counterparts of the NBA are thrown into the mix.
Today, the average salary of a WNBA player starts at around $50,000 and caps off at $110,000. On the other hand, a player starting out in the NBA starts out with a salary that averages around $560,000. Currently, amid COVID-19 shutdowns, this massive gap in salary is heavily affecting the WNBA players who are being paid less and opting to forgo playing during the 2020 season.
According to NBC Sports, WNBA executives and athletes have agreed that players who are considered “at-risk” for the COVID-19 virus can opt-out of playing this season and still receive a full paycheck. Meanwhile, those who are not “at-risk” but make the decision not to play will not receive compensation.
Fortunately, many NBA players are aware of the ways in which this disparity affects them differently and are working to support the women who play the game as well.
Brooklyn Nets star Kyrie Irving is leading the charge to ensure that WNBA athletes who opt out of playing this season can do so without worrying about finances.
The Nets point guard announced in a statement made via his KAI Empowerment Initiative, that he pledges to commit $1.5 million to cover the salaries of WNBA players who have opted out of playing in the 2020 season. As part of his effort, Irving has also partnered with the investment banking company UBS to offer financial literacy programs to each of the players in the WNBA.
“This platform was created to provide support for all WNBA players in hopes to relieve some of the financial strain imposed during these challenging times,” Irving explained in a statement. “Whether a person decided to fight for social justice, play basketball, focus on physical or mental health, or simply connect with their families, this initiative can hopefully support their priorities and decisions.”
Players must provide the reasons behind their decision to not participate in the 2020 season to qualify.
In order to qualify, WNBA players cannot receive any additional financial support from other organizations.
According to CNBC, Irving makes an annual average salary of roughly $34 million and said that he was inspired to start the fund “after WNBA players Natasha Cloud of the Washington Mystics and Jewell Loyd of the Seattle Storm connected him with several of their WNBA peers who discussed some of the challenges they would face if they opted not to play when the season started on July 25.”
Cloud recently announced that she will be committing her time during the season to fight for racial and social justice instead of playing.
Players Renee Montgomery and Tiffany Hayes of the Atlanta Dream, have also confirmed their decision to take part in the fight. In addition, ten other WNBA athletes have also confirmed that they will not be playing this year because of health concerns or other reasons related to the fight for social justice.
Speaking with ESPN’s The Undefeated, Cloud explained, “It’s hard to think about basketball with the climate of what we’re in right now socially after George Floyd was murdered.”