Separate & Unequal

On 24 April, 1996, the development of the Women’s National Basketball Association (W/NBA) was spearheaded by NBA executives with the mission to “create programs that improve the quality of life for all people…” A large majority of veteran athletes who flocked towards official training camps prior to the inaugural season opener in June 1997 viewed the assemblage as a progressive refuge. For the second time in history, Olympic gold medal winners who comprised the United States Women’s National Basketball Team (USWNBT) returned to the courts where illustrious collegiate careers and impenetrable sisterhoods were forged.

Through WNBA Cares, the WNBA is deeply committed to creating programs that improve the quality of life for all people with a special emphasis on programs that inspire youth and families worldwide, promote health and wellness and education.

WNBA Cares Mission Statement

Following a blitzkrieg attack by detractors and news outlets regarding its sustainability, the WNBA has certainly weathered a litany of challenges that plague even the best intentioned corporations in their infancy. Sexual harassment, inequitable working conditions as compared to their male counterparts and an organization that gaslights employees when ethical grievances arise presents as the antithesis of “inspiring youth and families worldwide.” In fact, one must question the authenticity of sentiments conveyed by W/NBA Commissioners Cathy Engelbert and Adam Silver to “improve the quality of life for all people,” considering the fact that the aforementioned problems remain a blight of the organization as this sentence concludes.

I was sexually harassed by my Head Coach as a rookie on the Detroit Shock. She was a well known hall of fame player who inappropriately touched me, made sexually suggestive comments and clandestinely engaged in an (alleged) romantic liaison with a player. We confronted her as a team, she denied it and still coaches now, thankfully, not in the women’s league. I walked away from the sport forever.

WNBA Draftee

The Institute for Diversity and Ethics in Sport at the University of Central Florida conducted a racial and gender assessment of the WNBA in 2019. A diverse cast of office, professional-level staff substantiated a sterling A-plus grade for racial equality, combined with a subsequent A grade for gender inclusivity.

© O.W. Showe

However, as WNBA athletes negotiate for “Comfort Level” commercial airline seating during official road trips and enhanced support for working mothers, several franchise players have elected to forego the precarious launch of the 2020 season in its entirety. The NBA generated approximately 8.76 billion dollars in revenue in 2019; yet, the WNBA’s Most Valuable Player (MVP) for that particular season was compelled to pen an open letter to league executives requesting a medical deferment during the pandemic. Previously, a cohort of league appointed physicians denied the exemption, thwarting all attempts to secure an annual salary for the hall of fame athlete.

When the NBA created the WNBA it was expressed that the primary purpose for the partnership was to utilize their resources to help grow the WNBA. Twenty years later, there is no advertising for the WNBA and NBA players rarely shout out the WNBA or help promote women’s basketball.

Henry G., Sports Analyst

The W/NBA dedicated the 2020 basketball season to social justice reform and the Black Lives Matter Movement while unwittingly failing to acknowledge systemic gender inequality, sexual harassment and the blatant toxicity of a polarizing team co-owner. Arguably, the latter decry is in direct opposition to progressive social transformation. Thus, until the contribution of WNBA players are valued and compensated in a manner that commensurates with their male counterparts, the newly enacted initiative reeks of inauthenticity.

Is it justice or just us?

0710 ET – Author/Illustrator: O.W. Showe


  1. Great article and powerful move on your behalf! You are inspiring speaking the truth, if only more would. I have always heard of what it was like to play in the WNBA, and your experience confirms everything that I’ve been told. It’s sad and frustrating that as women we’re treated less than, and even worse as women of color. I could go on, but I digress, I’m so proud of you! ✊🏾❤

  2. I am a former high school basketball player in the Washington DC area. I have loved going to the Mystics games ever since high school. My mother and I would go together and we’re season ticket holders for 4 years. I had aspirations of being an engineer since I was 9. When basketball was going okay for me, I did my homework with the limited Internet resources at the time and realized I would make more than a professional women’s basketball player (sans advertisements and endorsements) two years out of college with an engineering degree. Combine that with the limited risk of injury, I decided not to continue with basketball afterwards. Yet, the gender bias is the same. Engineering, too, is a male dominated field so I understand and have had several encounters of sexual harassment and inappropriate touching in my field so it pains me to know that it is also happening in a sport I have been proud to share with my daughter. Misogyny has always seemed to be a theme male dominated sports. If you are or have dated a male athlete, professional or not, women are objectified and it’s like there is some unknown pass that is given for male athletes to garner sex with as many women who are showed to their doors, the cheerleaders wear little to nothing on the court. In wrestling and boxing, women are on bikinis whether they are fighting or just holding a card. It’s gross and yet we allow it. Women’s basketball teams have the cutest kids integrated with their actual cheerleaders (who wear clothes). I do appreciate that the Mystics have their own court to play on here in DC but the parking is limited and the gym is significantly smaller than the court they shared with the NBA, Hockey Team, AND the Georgetown Men’s Basketball teams. In the current climate, I doubt anything will change. People didn’t vote for Hillary because she was a woman, a woman well into her years at that and the comment that I heard severally times was that once a month rash decisions would be made. It was a gross statement to make and inappropriate. So, unfortunately, until perceptions change about women, I doubt we will get heard. I was so proud of the Mystics last year and celebrated at home as I watched the finals on TV, and that we have the MVP, should’ve garnered more fan-fare. Those who know know but unfortunately, many others don’t know but get excited when I talk about it because it’s an awesome feat. We’ll get our recognition in due time. In the meantime, I pray for my sister’s that are continuing to go through these things quietly for fear that their salary will be jeopardized.

  3. As a former division 1 collegiate baller, I have to say that my heart sank after reading this article. 20 years later and we have a “Women’s League” that truly remains separate…and definitely not equal. As women, we are so used to having little conscious thrown to us to appease us and this article definitely illuminates the WNBA as one of those concessions. There were points mentioned that I haven’t even thought of. I’m from the DC metro area and have attended 2 WNBA Washington Mystics WNBA games during last season. IT WAS SO EXCITING AND EXHILARATING! The crowd had a family-like vibe and the employees working the game were kind and so interested in the game and the players…AND YET…there was a palpable feeling like that of a glorified collegiate level team…not that of a champion team in the making (they went on to become 2019 WNBA Champions!). What hurt the most was that I took my son to the games to teach him, women are powerful, athletic and talented too! After their first ever title victory, I literally awaiting the celebration and fanfare TO NO AVAIL. fresh off of the heels of the Nats winning the World Series, the Capitals winning the Stanley cup – victories that almost shut the city down…crickets for the nationals. Perhaps there was a celebration and I missed it…but if so, it certainly wasn’t advertised copiously on the local news media and radio stations in an equal manner as the hockey and baseball celebrations. I get it, not everyone cares about women, let alone Women’s sports…but on the heels of 2 big titles, I certainly thought that their champion title would “elevate” their status in the city. New reporters would talk about the exciting changes and successes of the DC sporting teams, yet and still the Mystics were an after thought. I can’t even locate the jerseys or a T-shirt in my local Target and Walmart. My husband told me that I would be forced to pay astronomical arena prices as the only place to purchase was at the arena during a game. These realizations have taught me that we are separate and definitely not equal. While I get that women may almost always be viewed as lesser in society, the NBA has more than enough resources to do a better job of promoting the WNBA and encouraging cohesion among the 2 leagues. Maybe it’s me, but I will enjoy seeing an all star game with co-ed teams…just a thought.

  4. A woman of conviction, wronged by the system, yet strong enough to not remain entangled in their deceit!
    You are so POWERFUL!
    I am HONORED to call you FRIEND!!

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