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