Did the NBPA Executive Director undermine the WNBA’s upcoming CBA negotiations?
On Thursday, NBAPA Executive Director Michele Roberts was asked about the pay gap between the WNBA and the NBA by moderator Jemele Hill during a Sports and Activism panel during The Atlantic Fest. Her response has raised eyebrows as the WNBA continues to negotiate its future collective bargaining agreement.
Hill asked the question, highlighting the fact that women of the W are paid a lot more overseas and play out of the United States because of large pay discrepancies in the US between the WNBA and their male counterparts.
Roberts, who was named the Executive Director of the NBPA in July of 2014, prefaced her response to the question acknowledging her lack of involvement in the current CBA negotiations. “Just to be clear, I’m not in the management of the W,” she said. “There’s a separate executive director and I’m not engaged in the CBA negotiations.”
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“But I think we have to be realistic in some respects is the revenue that is generated in each game the men’s game is just much more profitable and generates much more revenue than the women’s game does. I think the league is committed to helping it grow. But it would be preposterous to suggest that there should be 6.5 million dollar average salaries in the women’s game when they don’t make anything near the kind of revenue that the men’s game generates.”
Roberts, who also previously held the title of Interim Director of the WNBPA in 2014, acknowledged general discussions she’s had with NBA Commissioner Adam Silver and WNBPA Executive Director Terri Jackson.
“From both my discussions with Adam (Silver) and my discussions with Terri (Jackson) who is the executive director of the women, there is good faith in the negotiations and hopefully there will be some recognition of the disparity that is realistic.”
Her response to Hill’s question angered and upset both premiere WNBA players and high-profile WNBA agent Lindsay Kagawa Colas.
Colas tweeted that she wasn’t surprised by Roberts’ comments, hinting that similar instances have occurred previously. “Michele Roberts has never indicated that the WNBA players are any more than a nuisance/liability for the NBPA.”
The player agent also shaded Roberts on Instagram posting word for word the exchange between Hill, Roberts and Washington Mystics Owner Ted Leonsis. She bracketed out Leonsis’ response to Hill’s question and wrote: “But you know at least the owners are on board.”
Seattle Storm point guard and all-time WNBA leader in assists Sue Bird took to Instagram to express her frustrations. “We all understand how business & revenue work and we all know the realities,” Bird wrote. “But that’s not what the conversation is about. In order to even compare revenues (etc) the investment has to be equal. THEN we can talk about revenues. Right now we are talking about closing the investment gap in order to grow the game.”
Elena Delle Donne and Breanna Stewart both reposted Bird’s Instagram story on their on their Instagram stories. The 2019 MVP added to her story post: “Yes!!! Why is this sooooo hard for people to comprehend. Just listen.”
Added the 2018 MVP:
David Fucillo, an employee at the newly formed Draft Kings Nation, asked Hill on Twitter if she pushed back on Roberts, noting that WNBA players have not been “asking for the same total dollars as NBA players.” Roberts responded to the back and forth from Fucillo and Hill and acknowledging that examining the player salaries as a percentage of revenue is “the lane to bargain” in. But, she continued to describe the pay gap as a “losing proposition.”
LaChina Robinson, ESPN Women’s basketball analyst and host of the Around the Rim Podcast expressed her frustration about this framing generally, though she told High Post Hoops she wasn’t referring to Robert’s comments directly in this tweet. She noted that the WNBA still has limited “spaces & opportunities” to respond to and rectify oversight in public comments.
A spokesperson for the WNBPA declined to comment on the record about Roberts’ comments. Representatives from the NBPA said they did not have a comment at this time.
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