"It's a deal that represents moving forward both from a WNBA perspective, but also in general, for women in sports and society." That's how Seattle Storm veteran Sue Bird described, in an interview with The Seattle Times, the tentative labor agreement reached this week between the WNBA and its players union.
Bird is a member of the Players Association executive committee. The eight-year contract still needs approval from the league's board of governors, but KNKX sports commentator Art Thiel told Morning Edition host Kirsten Kendrick that it's a big improvement.
WHAT THE DEAL HOPES TO AVOID
Past contracts didn't have enough money and also lacked basic amenities that pro sports contracts should have, Thiel said.
"What the WNBA ownership wanted to achieve with this deal is to avoid what happened to the star center of the Storm last year, Breanna Stewart," he said. "She wanted to take advantage of the much greater money available in Europe. She was playing in the EuroLeague championship game when she ruptured her Achilles. That cost her the entire 2019 season.”
Thiel said Stewart was the latest in a long line of players who were either injured or greatly fatigued from playing for a second team in the same calendar year.
"They've increased the salaries to a point where most of the veteran players can say, 'I can make a go of it here in the U.S.' compared to the previous contract,” Thiel said.
WHAT THE DEAL WOULD DO
Under the tentative contract, the salary cap is increased from $1 million to $1.3 million per team per year. Thiel said isn't a lot, relative to sports, but "it's a big chunk at once."
"The average NBA salary is $7.7 million per player," Thiel said. "The median is $3.5 million. So, even the last player on the NBA bench is making more than the entire roster of a WNBA team.”
Thiel says it’s a better deal than what they’ve had, and includes a lot of non-cash benefits, as well: earlier free agency, premium airplane seating, individual hotel rooms, and a family planning and maternity leave policy.
"All of these things should have been in there a long time ago,” Thiel said. “But it is an improvement. It is basic civility for premier professional athletes.”
Thiel says this sets up the WNBA for a more prosperous future.
"In many ways it's an enlightened approach and Storm veteran Sue Bird and her colleagues on the negotiating committee certainly deserve a lot of credit for moving the ball forward for the health and welfare for WNBA players," he said.
News of the WNBA contract comes at a time when female athletes have become more vocal about the lack of equity in professional sports. Another example of this is the gender discrimination lawsuit filed by the U.S. women's national soccer team. Among the leaders in that fight: Reign F.C. and women's national team star Megan Rapinoe.