NEW HAVEN, Conn. (WTNH) — While both the Connecticut Sun and the WNBA have experienced growth, have they truly come a long way?
As the league’s 26th season draws near, it does so without arguably its best player, Brittney Griner, who is awaiting trial in Russia on drug smuggling charges.
Yet, with Griner still detained, you hardly read about it in print or hear about it on television. Does Griner’s case speak to pay inequity?
“The question of it being a gender issue is top of mind now when it comes to this type of circumstance but the reality is she’s over there because of a gender issue,” said Nneka Ogwumike, the WNBA Players Association president. “Pay inequity.”
Not so fast said Molly Yanity, associate professor of journalism at Quinnipiac University.
“I think it is a little bit dangerous for us to talk about what is going on with Brittney Griner and the overall financial health of the league and the players in the same thing. Because I think we’re talking about such a unique situation in what has happened with Griner in Russia,” Yanity said.
That may be true, but after a quarter century, WNBA players like Griner push their bodies to the limit. Many top players secure lucrative deals awaiting them overseas. They do so during the WNBA’s off-season.
Why? The reason is quite simple.
In 2021, the most recent WNBA season, the average player salary was $120,648. The minimum NBA salary in 2021 was $925,000 and the average NBA salary at that time was $8 million. To be fair, the revenue streams are also night and day.
As for the situation with Griner, Sun Forward and league MVP Jonquel Jones said it “kinda makes your antennas go up a little bit.”
“Ultimately it‘s an opportunity for me to put myself in a better financial standing and get paid what I feel I deserve to be paid as a professional. So it’s definitely an avenue that I’m not willing to close off yet,” Jones said.
Sun Head Coach and General Manager Curt Miller feels for the players but acknowledges it is difficult every season when training camp begins and his best players are still overseas.
“Their window of earnings are small. They can only be a professional athlete for so long, so you understand why they play year round. But, people don’t understand, even the great followers and fans of our league don’t understand how difficult it is, and how difficult as well as we put a great product together. I did not have our starting lineup last year in camp one day. Not one day together.”
It really is a doubled-edged sword for the WNBA. So, how do they get around it?
“I don’t think you do to be very honest about it,” Yanity said.
“I would love to see women make more but it also changes the product from a real family-friendly affordable product to something like the NBA where you’ve got to save money to take your whole family to an NBA game,” Yanity said.
It is anyone’s guess when a drastic increase in pay will come. Expect Sun fans to continue to fill most of the seats at the Mohegan Sun Arena. The team is celebrating its 20th season in Connecticut.
They have been close, but the WNBA title remains elusive. It also remains the goal.
“I think we’re close, and in pro sports you’re only in that window so many times. We have a veteran group, we have a lot coming back. We’re excited to bring Courtney Williams back into the fold,” Miller said. “We believe we’re one of the teams built, if we can stay healthy that can chase a championship.”