Column: Stewart’s injury should be a major wake-up call for WNBA

Photo Credit: KOMO News Seattle

It is exactly what fans have feared for a long time would happen – such a scenario is playing out right now.

Injuries are a risk in any WNBA game or overseas contest. But the possibility for injury increases greatly when having to essentially play year-round because players do not make enough money in their home leagues to sustain themselves.

That is exactly the reason why Breanna Stewart has to play overseas. That is the reason many WNBA players have to play overseas, because the money made in the United States is nowhere near enough.

When Stewart landed uncomfortably – and with speculation rampant about what is the status of her injury – it was not only basketball fans in Seattle and UConn that cried. It was not only women’s basketball fans around the world that felt it, the league had to feel it as well. Because this is exactly the possibility that could happen. No one, of course, wanted it to happen, but it was always the fear in the backs of everyone’s heads.

Teams essentially try their best to conceal these low salaries by not revealing contract details when players or anyone else gets signed. The phrase “Per team policy, terms of the contract were not disclosed” that we see in every single press release is, arguably, one of the most cringeworthy phrases in all of sports. But, we already know based on a plethora of interviews done on the subject with many a player that these number are nowhere near sufficient.

Stewart’s injury has the potential to sideline one of the WNBA’s marquee players for the entire season – a major setback for her career that reached a high point just last year.

After all, she not only won regular season WNBA MVP, she was also the MVP of her first-ever WNBA Finals. The Seattle Storm won its third championship in its history when they swept the Washington Mystics. In addition to winning both of those honors, she also was named MVP of the FIBA World Cup which took place last year in Tenerife, Spain when Team USA claimed the gold medal.

Imagine if an NBA season were to take place where LeBron James said he wanted to take a year off to pursue ministry, movies, or whatever he would choose to do. Imagine if we were coming up on that same NBA season where Kevin Durant was so disgruntled with the Golden State Warriors that he no longer wanted to play in the Bay Area and is demanding a trade. Imagine if in that same NBA season that Steph Curry injured his ACL because he happened to be playing overseas.

Imagine all of those playing out a month and change prior to an NBA season. Also – imagine all of the media coverage it would get.

That is arguably what the WNBA could be heading into. It was enough that we would be entering a season without Maya Moore, who is taking a year off to pursue ministry. It was enough that on top of the Moore news that we would be entering a season possibly without Liz Cambage, who still has not been traded out of Dallas despite several attempts by the Wings organization to satisfy her wishes.

Now, there is a possibility this season could also be without the reigning league MVP and the reigning Finals MVP? And a strong case can be made that all of this goes right back to the CBA – the one common storyline potentially threading all these issues together, and the one issue that may be the backstory to the 2019 season.

Moore was visibly exhausted in 2018 – the pressures of having to be the face of a team and play overseas, plus Minnesota hosting the All-Star Game caught up with her. There was lots of speculation in the early portions of the offseason that Cambage may have decided to simply return to Australia and never play in the W again – in part because of salaries. Now, the nightmare result of those low salaries has manifested itself in Stewart’s injury.

This is exactly what Nneka Ogwumike meant when she implored the WNBA (and more specifically, its big-brother league – the NBA) to #BetOnWomen in that Players’ Tribune article declaring that the WNBPA would opt out of its collective bargaining agreement. Add that onto travel issues like what happened with the Las Vegas Aces and arena issues like those seen at Westchester, and the union has its case made to a league (that still has yet to find a full-time president since Lisa Borders’ departure) that if it cares about its players, as it proclaims it does, it needs to invest more in those players.

Oh, by the way – the owners of the NBA need to be put on blast as well. These owners in the NBA love to tout the injury risks to their players that could happen if they play in overseas tournaments such as the World Cup or the Olympics. Mark Cuban is one of those. Well…where is that same energy for WNBA players, who probably have no problem playing in those types of tournaments – but the constant overseas travel is complete overkill.

It needs to invest more in those players to ensure, not only that they can be healthy year-round and that they do have a real offseason, but that they can be marketed the way these women deserve to be.

The new logo and rebranding is a start, but more needs to be done on the marketing end as well. Stewart, Moore, and Cambage are three of the most marketable players the W has. Add that along to Skylar Diggins-Smith who will miss part or all of the 2019 season as she is expecting, and other players also injured such as Rebekkah Brunson and Angel McCoughtry and the W will be missing some marquee names at the outset of this upcoming season.

And while new names will surface such as Jackie Young, Asia Durr, Katie Lou Samuelson, Arike Ogunbowale, and others, Stewart’s injury ought to be the wake-up call to the league that this generation of W greats need to be treated much better than previous generations.

Either that – or they will allow the union to make the decision for them when it is time to talk CBA.

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *