Skylar Diggins-Smith sets the record straight on the WNBA's wage gap

Yahoo Sports
<a class="link rapid-noclick-resp" href="/wnba/players/5059/" data-ylk="slk:Skylar Diggins-Smith">Skylar Diggins-Smith</a> is a three-time WNBA All-Star and one of the league’s most marketable talents. (Getty Images)
Skylar Diggins-Smith is a three-time WNBA All-Star and one of the league’s most marketable talents. (Getty Images)

Dallas Wings point guard Skylar Diggins-Smith called for increased WNBA salaries in a well-crafted first-person essay for Wealthsimple, and her argument was taken out of context by a number of media entities, all but proving her point about the discrepancy in coverage of male and female athletes.

Here’s the paragraph that made headlines:

“I’m the highest paid player on the Dallas Wings, and my salary is in the low six figures. [Harrison Barnes, the highest paid player on the Dallas Mavericks, made $24 million last season.] He’s definitely younger than me. Do you know his stats? Was he an All-Star? I mean, it doesn’t matter. But last year, I was First Team All-WNBA, which only goes to five players. I was also a WNBA All-Star for the third time.”

Before you get all worked up about the WNBA not producing the same revenue as the NBA, you should first recognize that Diggins-Smith was not suggesting she should make $24 million per season. First of all, that bracketed sentence citing Barnes did not come from her. Secondly, Diggins-Smith’s larger point is that WNBA players don’t even receive the same percentage of revenue as their NBA brethren.

WNBA players don’t earn the same percentage of income as NBA players

In the paragraph preceding that pull quote, Diggins-Smith noted that women receive less than 25 percent of the WNBA’s basketball-related income — a figure that does not include their jersey sales. The men, meanwhile, take home about 50 percent of the NBA’s BRI, including all merchandise sales.

Diggins-Smith rightly pointed this out to readers who took the pull quote out of context:

Skylar Diggins-Smith responds on Instagram to criticism of her essay on the wage gap in basketball. (via @mellentuck)
Skylar Diggins-Smith responds on Instagram to criticism of her essay on the wage gap in basketball. (via @mellentuck)

The chicken-and-egg argument holding the WNBA back

Diggins-Smith made several other compelling arguments about what has led to a wage gap that leaves WNBA players making at minimum 12 times less than NBA players (and less than NBA referees, too):

“I would be curious to know how successful we could be with such a great product if we had the same platform as the guys do. Think about the marketing dollars that they spend on guys, the platform given to them. Branding opportunities, TV deals, endorsement deals. It’s kind of like the chicken and the egg. People always talk about, ‘Well, you gotta have more people in the seats.’ But nobody puts us on TV! We have a competitive game, great match-ups; everything that would yield people wanting to see us, plus the success of women’s college basketball.”

Diggins-Smith also shared an eye-opening story about co-hosting ESPN’s “His and Hers” and having to coerce the producers to include the deciding game of the WNBA Finals on the show’s topic rundown.

Other unique challenges WNBA players have to face

Diggins-Smith said she makes more in endorsements than her WNBA salary, although she is one of the league’s best and most marketable talents. Most players are compete overseas between WNBA seasons to close the gap, taxing themselves to the point that it is detrimental to the WNBA product.

The WNBA’s travel policy was also a point of contention for Diggins-Smith. Teams are forced to fly commercial, often on game days. The Las Vegas Aces were infamously involved in a travel nightmare earlier this season, and the WNBA forced them to forfeit after they refused to play that night.

Diggins-Smith called out Mark Cuban

Diggins-Smith praised NBA players and other athletes who come out to support the WNBA (Damian Lillard notably called for increased wages for the women last month), while also calling out Mark Cuban for his failure to attend a Wings game — a point the Mavericks owner seemed to take to heart.


WNBA players can collectively bargain again in 2019

Diggins-Smith is not alone in her pursuit of increased salaries in the WNBA. Countless players have come forward, including fellow stars Nneka and Chiney Ogwumike and Diana Taurasi. Nneka Ogwumike serves as president of the Women’s National Basketball Players Association. The players have an opt-out clause in their collective bargaining agreement with the WNBA for next season.

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Ben Rohrbach is a writer for Yahoo Sports. Have a tip? Email him at rohrbach_ben@yahoo.com or follow him on Twitter!

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