Mateo Vazquez ’21
Unequal pay on the basis of gender has been, and continues to be, an issue that stretches across all walks of life. The recent outcomes of the NBA championship bring to light a blatant instance of this wage gap. As many know, LeBron James is in his 17th season of playing professional basketball. He also just won his fourth NBA title in a 4-2 win over the Miami Heat. On the other side of the court is Sue Bird. She has been a player in the WNBA for seventeen seasons and also recently clinched her 4th Title against the Las Vegas Aces. Despite the many similarities and integral roles that each play on their respective teams, they face astronomical disparities in their pay. In comparing just the 2020 season alone it is quite evident that something must change in the way female athletes are paid. This season, Sue Bird earned a salary of $215,000 while LeBron James pulled in $37.44 million.
However, it is important to note that these numbers fail to include their additional bonuses earned for winning their respective fourth titles in the NBA. After succeeding in the finals, LeBron took home over $35,644 dollars more than Sue Bird, who only received $11,356 as her bonus pay. Bird has had an amazing career as an athlete, earning a spot on the United States international team as a four time gold winning Olympic athlete. These two athletes have almost the exact same careers and accomplishments, seasons, and wins yet despite all of these similarities, they are paid completely differently. This gap in pay is quite startling after examining their almost identical careers. The general explanation for this difference, among fans, is that the NBA garners more attention and media focus and thus their players “deserve” more compensation. However, the WNBA has been steadily growing in popularity over the past few years, thus demonstrating that there has been a shift in attention towards both leagues.
Consequently, this increases the need for change in the current wage gap as players on womens’ teams are owed compensation for this increase in attention to the network.
With social media brings more awareness to fans about the issues that are prevalent in the league. Some changes are already being implemented, but nothing will change overnight as there still exists much work to be done within both leagues. Just this past February, the league was able to sign a collective bargaining agreement with players that allows for better pregnancy benefits, better lodging and travel, expanded player improvements beyond the NBA (undergraduate education funding), more marketing of the league itself, and, finally, an increase in all player salaries. This change is both long overdue and also still very far from over. The improvements are, in actuality, little changes that should have been implemented in the league for a long time.
Part of this issue is that, for many years, the league has justified not filling this gap by arguing that it would not be as profitable as despised. But even this has changed as, across the board, the league has increased their overall earnings and now has to demonstrate that this increase can, in turn, benefit the players. The good news is that the WNBA, along with its NBA cohort, is changing the language from stating that the league has not been profitable to alluding to the league’s profits and changes that will occur from these changes. What we have to look forward to is hopefully more increases to benefits and overall wage increases for players, but there still remains a plethora of effort that needs to occur in order for these changes to be fully implemented on the court.