Are Female Players in The WNBA Paid Fairly?

It is one of the most debated questions in sports; are women paid fairly in comparison to their male counterparts? Most sports fans and analysts would argue that the huge difference in the salary gap in basketball arises from the entire revenue that the WNBA takes in, when put beside what the NBA juggernaut makes every season. However, if we had to use that as a measuring stick, then there wouldn’t be any equality in the salary cap in any sports industry, not just basketball. It’s true that the entire WNBA doesn’t make anything near what NBA brings in, they are practically minting money. The question is, for the long-term, for ethical sports and for the dreams of young players everywhere, can the guys at the top of the money heap at least try and to make an effort to close the gap?

When Lebron James made his move to the L.A. Lakers and signed a new contract worth $154 million, an insane amount of money, no one wondered was it fair. Take it from the comment that WNBA rookie sensation A’ja Wilson wrote in a 2018 tweet, “154M ……….. must. be. nice. We over here looking for a M 🙃 [million] but Lord, let me get back in my lane”. She got a tremendous amount of flack for that, with many basketball fans (I repeat, b-a-s-k-e-t-b-a-l-l fans) telling this professional athlete to ostensibly get back in the kitchen where she belonged. What the foul!?!


It seems like this is the new double standard status quo. Nothing rocks the money lined boat, in so much as those people trying to raise the question of player gender pay, rarely make ripples in the situation much less waves. Wilson, on the Las Vegas Aces, is set to earn $52,564 for her first rookie season. Now compare that to her NBA counterpart, Deandre Ayton, who signed to the Phoenix Suns for $6.8 million. Both were top first round picks in their respective drafts. The difference is immense, and it doesn’t make any sense really. They both entertain and the leagues make money, but you can’t seriously say that the economics of the WNBA should have all players capped at $110,000 per year. I mean, say what you will, but they drain threes like the Splash Brothers on the west coast, but don’t get paid half of the average of what a Silicon Valley programmer makes?  This does not compute. It’s these types of pay gaps that keep fueling the inequality debate.

To make matters worse, some people are trying to keep the story on the hush, by claiming that the WNBA athletes are overpaid. Some critics would also argue that the WNBA isn’t that popular with American and international fans alike. Thus, the difference in the salary cap is justified. They say:

  • NBA raises way more revenue compared to WNBA. Therefore, it only makes sense that they will have more money to pay their players.
  • There isn’t much need to invest in a league that does not draw big crowds and is still also young and unstable.
  • The WNBA is losing money. At least that’s what the team owners keep saying.
  • The WNBA hasn’t been around long enough.

These are just some of the same tired excuses that serve to quiet those that raise the salary gap issue. What these detractors fail to recognize is that there is something more at work than economics here. The NBA and WNBA are part of the same family, they are brother and sister in the game that many Americans love. The leagues are a lesson in teamwork and leadership; a crucible of dedication and strength of will. Most of all the leagues (both NBA and WNBA) are the North Stars for which little girls and boys sail the ships of their aspirations toward. Plainly put, the game builds character, and character counts.

Fact is, the gender wage gap in professional sports is real. It exists both in pro basketball, and our society at large. Therefore, this fact shouldn’t come as a shock to anyone, that women are standing up and taking notice. On International Women’s Day back in March 2019, women in Iceland left their jobs at 2:38 pm as a symbol of the amount of work they are paid in comparison to men, if set against a 5 pm end of day … an ingenious protest. Even so, it’s still really shocking how many people can balk at the idea of professional athletes having a gender pay reckoning.

It is true that since the 1980s the wage gap has narrowed slightly, but then again, pay it has remained relatively stagnant for the last 15 years. Take the study made by the U.S. Census Bureau in 2017 which found that women aged between 25 to 34 earned only 0.89 cents for every dollar that a man in the same age bracket earned. Moreover, check out the difference in gender wage gap when factored in with race … it is eye watering.

According to all the data collected and studies made by the various data collection agencies, and organizations dedicated to the subject, it is predicted that the gender wage gap will be around until 2119. A hundred years from the time the time of writing this article. Imagine that. Now, how much time do you think it can take for the gender wage gap to close in basketball specifically? There are many things that the future holds, but one thing seems fairly obvious. Fair wage pay is a definitely “not any time soon” type of proposition.

Consider the fact that the WNBA pays about 20% to its players and compare this to the 50% that the NBA pays to its players, you see where the problem starts. They’re the players that make the league run (no pun intended … run it back). With the $110,000 salary cap that the WNBA paid its players as of 2018 and compare this to the $582,183 that the NBA pays per capita. From this data, it is evident that WNBA players earn about $450,000 less than rookie NBA players.

When it comes to the issue of bonuses that NBA players receive for performance, WNBA players gets an equivalent of a grocery store petty cash zipper bag.

From all the data collected about WNBA and NBA markets, it doesn’t make any sense why the wage difference between them is so high. Remember, the NBA wasn’t that well off in its early years and it took years of smart marketing to make it what it is today. Some could even argue that the WNBA started off a lot better than the NBA.

It would be a wise decision for the WNBA to take the cue from what’s happening in the World Surfing League. Starting in 2019, we should expect equal prize money awarded to male and female surfers for each WSL controlled event. This marks as the first ever US-based sports league that applies parity of pay. It’s a start, and other sports should hopefully follow suit, basketball included. Maybe one day the WNBA will realize that it was simply the right thing to do.

Final Thoughts

It is high time that the people in the stands started advocating for pay equity for the female athletes, and then maybe those in the boardrooms will start listening as well. Maybe.

In the meantime, and to the WNBA players … keep blocking shots, laying up duces and breaking fast, but most of all, keep your eyes on score. Thank you.

If you’re looking for a woman that has significantly changed her industry and all the rules in it then we’ve got a read for you!

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