This is a critical time for the WNBA, a crossroads of sorts. The league’s first commissioner says this, and so do its players.
“We all have the same goals…,” Commissioner Cathy Engelbert told reporters, including the MSR, at her first All-Star press conference July 27 in Las Vegas. “With everyone sharing a deep passion for this, I am confident that we can strengthen the WNBA working together and growing revenue, driving improved economics for all.” Engelbert assumed her duties in mid-July in the role formerly identified as president.
A few days earlier, espnW published a July 24 Q&A with Phoenix veteran guard Diana Taurasi in which she took the league to task. She opined on the W’s treatment of its players, especially its stars and player salary stagnation among other issues.
“The WNBA always finds a way to mess it up,” Taurasi stated. “We had to go to a communist country [in the off-season] to get paid like capitalists. In the last 11 years, I think we’ve had a 1.5 percent increase in our [WNBA] pay salary. That doesn’t make sense to me.
“They don’t care,” Taurasi continued. “Any league that talks about that — they care about their players — is lying.”
“We’re in the midst of a very important CBA [collective bargaining agreement] negotiations,” Engelbert said as the league and the players union released a joint statement during All-Star weekend that talks thus far have been productive. A new agreement must be in place by the start of next season.
Taurasi, who was in attendance at the commish’s mid-season address, responded, “Any time you renegotiate a CBA, they try to throw in all these little minor details that make it look pretty. But at the end of the day, we haven’t been able to fix the biggest thing, and that’s salary… Salary is the most important thing.”
On the W promoting its stars, Taurasi complained, “The NBA has made rock stars out of their best players. We just have not been able to capitalize on any of that.”
We asked Engelbert if she had read Taurasi’s comments. “One of the things I’ve been really, really amazed at is the strong voice of our players,” she responded, “and we want our players to be expressing what they think [about] some of the things that have worked and haven’t worked in the league.
“I want to hear all of the issues and make sure that I’m prioritizing things right, especially as we’re in CBA negotiations while trying to transform the league, grow revenue, get more fans in the seats,” Engelbert said.
Afterward, we asked Taurasi if she believed that Engelbert and other league officials really read her comments, and more importantly take heed. “It was one of those honest conversations that I was having with the reporter, and it came out in conversation form,” the Mercury star said.
“I had a lot of feedback from a lot of players, a lot of ex-players in the league. I felt everything I said came from a genuine place. It came from a place of wanting the league to be better to the kids that are playing today.
“I will be out of the league very soon,” the 14-year veteran guard added, “and the changes won’t affect my career. But I do want these 15-16 years of service to go into something better for these kids.
“Not saying that the WNBA hasn’t tried or hasn’t helped, but there is more to be done.”
Charles Hallman is a contributing reporter and award-winning sports columnist at the Minnesota Spokesman-Recorder.