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BALL FIVE: Major League pay gap leaves WNBA, NBA stars and fans to wonder: why?

You might have been expecting Jay Davis to be writing a column on how the Chicago Cubs had three MLB All-Stars, but should have probably had the entire roster composed of Chicago’s North Side. Instead, Jay is out on vacation and I, the summer intern, will be filling in his place for next two weeks.
Over the weekend, NBA stars Damian Lillard and DeMar DeRozan were in attendance to watch a Women’s National Basketball Association game as the Las Vegas Aces took on the Connecticut Sun in Las Vegas.
After the Ace’s defeated the Sun 94-90, both DeRozan and Lillard spoke out about the lack of pay in the WNBA.
They are right. There’s a large issue at hand here: when professional athletes aren’t paid like professional athletes.
The max contract in the WNBA tops out at $110,000, while entry-level NBA referees are paid a salary of $150,000.
In the NBA, the minimum contract is more than five times greater than the WNBA maximum contract.
Players in the NBA earned an average salary greater than $5.7 million.
In the WNBA? The average salary is $71,365. That’s quite a difference.
When looking at the highest salaries in each league, the disparities grow even greater.
Stephen Curry of the Golden State Warriors made a whopping $34.68 million salary this year, granted he only brought about 44 percent of that home after taxes.
Chiney Ogwumike, a power forward for the Connecticut Sun, earns the highest salary in the WNBA with $117,500. Basketball isn’t even Ogwumike’s full-time job. In 2018, Ogwumike signed a contract with ESPN to become a full-time analyst instead of going overseas to make money during the offseason like many of the other WNBA players.
The lack of pay during the regular season doesn’t give most players any opportunity to rest their bodies. During the offseason, 89 of the 157 players in the WNBA go overseas to play basketball for one reason: money.
Former WNBA MVP, Maya Moore spent her off-season in Russia on the BC UMMC Ekaterinburg side, with fellow WNBA players, Dianna Taurasi and Brittany Griner. Taurasi, the 36-year old, had to call her off-season early as she sustained an injury. Moore and Griner led the Russian Premier League side to a Championship.
Could you imagine the 2018 NBA MVP, James Harden, in the prime of his career, picking up and joining a Russian Professional Basketball League team?
I sure can’t.
I won’t ignore the fact that the NBA is exponentially more popular to the general public than the WNBA, but there’s also an issue there.
The NBA publicly releases their league revenue and the players receive a 50-50 split. Seems transparent and fair, right?
Well, things aren’t the same in the WNBA.
For starters, the WNBA doesn’t release their revenue earnings, but there’s some simple math to be done. According to Forbes, they estimate it to be around $52 million. The 157 players in the WNBA received just $11.4 million of that total, or about 21 percent.
My issue lies there, where the league receives a whopping 79 percent of the revenue shares, that just doesn’t seem right.
Also, it’s important to note that the Atlanta Hawks, who won just 24 games in the 2017-2018 season, had an average home attendance of 14,409 fans.
In 2017, the Minnesota Lynx went 27-7, were crowned WNBA Champions and enjoyed a 12.3 percent increase when it came to attendance. The average attendance for a Minnesota Lynx game was 10,407, the highest since they were introduced to the league in 1999.
The WNBA as a league is young and saw substantial growth the past year setting all-time records in social media interactions and retail sales. That means one thing: more people are starting to pay more attention the league.
At the end of the 2021 season, the collective bargaining agreement will expire and hopefully changes will be made then.
The bottom line, the WNBA players are professional athletes as well, and it’s only right that they earn the 50-50 split that the NBA players get.