Pay Me What You Owe Me: And WNBA, That Includes You Too.

Girls for Gender Equity
5 min readJun 7, 2023

by: Nia Oden McCann, Social Work Manager

The WNBA kicked off their 27th season this month. As a little girl, I remember watching the NY Liberty play at Madison Square Garden and dreaming of what it would be like to play in the WNBA one day! At the time, unbeknownst to me, there were pay inequities in the world of professional women’s basketball too. I didn’t know that many of the players I admired were deeply plagued by pay disparities so much so that they also worked a second job; playing overseas during the WNBA off-season.

WNBA Getty 2023.

More Money Overseas

During Brittney Griner’s first press conference since her release with the Phoenix Mercury, she was asked if she would go back overseas to play basketball, and her response was, “I’m never going overseas to play again unless I’m representing my country at the Olympics.” Who can blame her? Griner was racially profiled and detained in Russia for ten months last year until she was safely released back to her family in December during a prisoner exchange. Her detainment was treacherous as she was held in a Russian prison for the majority of the time. The conditions were so extreme that Griner decided to cut her beautiful locks because when she washed her hair, her hair would freeze making her colder in the already frigid conditions.

The true question is; why did Griner, along with several other professional women’s basketball players, have to play overseas in the first place? The answer here is simply: pay inequity. Even in the hit tv show Power II: Ghost, the character Diana, portrayed by LaToya Tonodeo, is discouraged from playing professional basketball because of it’s not so promising pay meanwhile her male cousin is encouraged to go pro. About half of the WNBA, opts to play overseas for additional income and because the pay is better. This off-season practice is considered “normal” on the women’s side, but it’s not as common for NBA players to do so.

Christian Peterson/Getty Images

Pay Black Women!

Last year, the top three paid WNBA players were Jewel Loyd, Dinaa Tarausi, and Arike Ogunbowale; each of their salaries capped at $234,936. Contrarily, the top-paid NBA player, Stephen Curry, was paid 204 times that amount, $48.07 million. The conversation about equitable pay for women’s basketball players isn’t just to be compared to the players of the NBA either. The pay gap transcends professions beyond the world of professional sports. The WNBA is predominantly Black women and Black women also experience one of the largest pay gaps. Black women earn 70% as much as white men. There is no irony here.

The intersectionality of being a professional Black woman, no matter your career path, pay inequities still exist. Last year, Las Vegas Aces’ player Kelsey Plum advocated that the WNBA players not be paid the same amount as NBA players, but that the women should receive the same amount of revenue shares, which is 50%. As of last year, WNBA players only received 20% of revenue shares. That’s why equitable pay for these athletes is a must.

LGBTQ+ Inequity

The Women’s National Basketball Players Association (WNBPA) consists of 83% women of color and 67% Black or African-American women, with a substantial portion of them being members of the LGBTQ+ community. Too often, Black women, femmes, and gender expansive people are pushed to the margins and paid less for equal work. Black and Latinx LGBTQ+ people make 80 and 70 cents for each dollar other people make, respectively. These women and femmes work extremely hard to be successful and compete at the highest possible level of professional women’s basketball in the world. They deserve the best, and to be paid as such!

Even when we look at collegiate women’s basketball, Angel Reese, LSU player and 2023 Champion, shifted the trajectory of the college game. The title game for the NCAA women’s championship broke several records. It was the most viewed college event ever, men’s or women’s, with a record of 9.9 million viewers. The viewership peaked at 12.6 million. These numbers doubled the viewership from the championship game last season. Although many spectators applied a double standard to Reese about the energy, style, and finesse she brought to the game, she excelled. This season Angel Reese had people attack her character because she likes to “talk trash” during games, when they praised white athletes who did the same thing. In addition to her all-star talent, Reese helped grow the game of women’s basketball by bringing the fire, passion, and entertainment to the court each game.

Ben Solomon/NCAA Photos/Getty Images

After Reese helped lead her team, the LSU Tigers, to a national championship this year, she became the highest paid collegiate women’s basketball player. With the new name, image, and likeness (NIL) rules in the NCAA, athletes have an opportunity to be compensated for the use of their name, image and likeness. This rule didn’t exist when I played college basketball. I love this for the student athletes of today, like Angel Reese, who can truly profit off their own talent and other NIL deals.

Getty Images

I’m sure Angel Reese will go on to play in the WNBA when she graduates from college. However, she will have to prepare herself for the financial shift from NIL deals to the inequitable pay of the WNBA. If Reese chooses to, she may easily become another professional women athlete to opt to play overseas. Hopefully the WNBA makes the necessary changes to pay their professional athletes equitably. Pay Black women and Black LGBTQ+ athletes more money because they absolutely deserve it!

With the WNBA season kicking off recently, go out and support these women by attending your local WNBA games and bring a friend or two. Help grow the game and professional women’s basketball by advocating for and supporting Black women!

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Girls for Gender Equity

Girls for Gender Equity (GGE) is an intergenerational organization centering the leadership of cis and trans Black girls and gender-expansive youth of color.