Brittney Griner and the Gender Pay Gap: The Fault is in the System – Sport

Brittney Griner and the Gender Pay Gap: The Fault is in the System – Sport

It was Brittney Griner’s concern to make one thing clear at the end of her message: “I want to play for Phoenix Mercury in the WNBA next season.” After her return to the United States, the basketball player thanked US President Joe Biden and announced on Instagram that she would use her celebrity to promote the release of her compatriots. The United States had released arms dealer Viktor Bout in a prisoner swap for Griner, who was convicted in Russia for having cannabis cartridges in her luggage.

US professional basketball player Griner’s announcement that she is continuing her career is more than just sporting news. Because Griner only writes that she will compete for a club in the USA. Strikingly, she does not write that she will never play abroad or even in Russia again. That’s the real message, and it paints a sad picture of the state of women’s professional sports in the United States – and around the world.

“We have to make a decision about whether we actually want to allow other countries to treat our compatriots better than we do when it comes to professional sports,” said Ketra Armstrong, professor of sports management at the University of Michigan. The Americans regard basketball as their national sport, according to their self-image, the best and most lucrative league in the world has to be in the USA. They also debate a lot about equality, in many industries. Then how do you explain that in the women’s league WNBA the top salary in the coming season will be $234,926 (top earner is Jewell Loyd from Seattle Storm) – and in the men’s league NBA no actor receives less than a million dollars? $1.42 million is the WNBA salary cap per team. The average salary of the players is $118,000.

In the NBA, half of the income goes to the players, in the WNBA only 20 percent

It is often said that the salary levels in the two leagues cannot be compared; because the income generated in the men’s league is much higher than that of women. Counter-question – and this leads to the “sad situation” cited by Armstrong: Why can’t the USA generate such high revenues in their sacred sport that top players like Griner don’t have to play in Russia? Olympic champion Griner, 32, would have received $221,500 in Phoenix last season – in Russia, at UMMC Yekaterinburg, she received five times as much. “It’s so much money that you almost don’t have to think about doing it,” says Armstrong. “Especially since you are courted as a professional athlete and can feel safer than a tourist.”

Women's Basketball League WNBA: Highly praised, poorly paid compared to the men: two-time Olympic champion Brittney Griner.

Highly praised, poorly paid compared to the men: two-time Olympic champion Brittney Griner.

(Photo: Eric Gay/AP)

Professional sport is a business and as such is increasingly played in countries where the level of spending does not seem to matter much; whether it’s women’s basketball in Russia, golf in Saudi Arabia, the Winter Olympics in China, Formula 1 in Bahrain, or the current example, the soccer World Cup in Qatar. You can lament that, or you can look for ways to significantly increase revenue in general. “The NBA men’s league has shown over the past few decades how you can do that,” says Armstrong. Sales have more than quadrupled since 2001 as a result of opening up new markets (primarily in China and Europe) and the connection between sports and pop culture; this season it should be more than ten billion dollars in the NBA. In the WNBA there are currently about 60 million. A quadrupling of income and salaries would reduce the incentive to want to compete abroad.

“It needs a clear strategy, especially when it comes to the interaction between growth and sponsors,” says Armstrong. They are now beginning this in the WNBA: Each of the twelve women’s teams will play 40 games in the coming season, which will start in May – as many as before. However: The collective agreement, which applies until 2027, stipulates that the owners can increase the number of games to up to 44 per team – without adjusting salaries accordingly. In the NBA, half of the income goes to the players, in the WNBA only 20 percent. After all, the best players can earn more than half a million dollars through bonuses and tournament earnings during the season – the WNBA reintroduced the so-called Commissioner’s Cup this summer.

“We don’t demand that we get as much as the men,” says professional basketball player Kelsey Plum, 28, who won the title with the Las Vegas Aces last season and mostly plays in Turkey during the season break, most recently with Galatasaray Istanbul. There she earns significantly more than in the WNBA (the contract content is not known), but Plum sent the same message as Griner: She will play for Las Vegas next season for $200,000.

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