LA Sparks star Nneka Ogwumike on new WNBA contract and fighting for women in the workplace

There’s a potentially monumental new agreement between the WNBA and its female basketball players. Top players could earn more than $500,000 per season. And for the first time, the average salary would be above $100,000. Players would also childcare subsidies and full salaries when they’re on maternity leave.

Nneka Ogwumike, LA Sparks forward and president of the players’ union, helped negotiate the deal.

“It hasn't always been easy for women of color. And so for us to be able to make such a monumental agreement with the league, with obviously mostly black women, we're very proud of that,” she tells KCRW. “And obviously there's more than just the racial diversity that we have in the league. We have players of so many different orientations and so many different backgrounds. We have mothers. And so I think that this agreement was exactly what we wanted.” 

With higher salaries, will the women no longer need to play in China, Russia or Europe -- as they often do -- to make a decent living? She says that decision is up to individuals. 

“We’re obviously moving towards opportunities for players in the offseason, so that they do have more options than just going and playing overseas, which has been such a big part of our livelihood with women and basketball,” she says. “But we understand that in order for the league to grow, we must too. And right now, it's looking like the more opportunities there are in the offseason, the more we'll have players in market and be able to truly get the partnerships that we need to continue to fuel resources into the league.”

This is also a revenue sharing agreement, so if the WNBA gets more money, the players will too. 

“Right now, we've structured a system in which the league has to attain a certain amount of revenue, which then toggles the 50/50 split between the players and the leagues,” Ogwumike explains.

So how can Ogwumike help the WBA make more money? She suggests it lies in the women continuing to speak up: “Basketball is basketball, but the WNBA is different from the NBA. And I think it's time that we assess exactly what works for us and move forward in that regard. It's on a lot of different organizations and corporations to provide the visibility and access for people to come and watch us; and of course, the partnerships to give us the resources to fund the league.” 

So will this agreement ripple out to other women’s sports, such as soccer? She says that’s the perspective she had when going into negotiations. 

“We weren't just looking to fight for our own (with the players and the NBA). We wanted to fight for women in the workplace as well. And of course women in sports, more specifically team sports, because I think that team sports … is where we see the most disparity between men and women in sports.”

--Written by Amy Ta, produced by Michell Eloy