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Diggins advocates for change

by Ben Jansen

The Women’s National Basketball Association (WNBA) has long had problems in terms of how they treat players compared to male counterparts in the NBA. The highest paid WNBA player made only $95,000 this season, as compared to the NBA, where the league minimum salary for a player is $898,000. The league also faces problems when it comes to mothers in the league, and the way they are treated. 

Skylar Diggins-Smith is one of the top players the league has to offer, having been on four All-Star teams and three All-WNBA teams. Despite these accolades, Diggins-Smith recently came under fire from fans and reporters alike when she missed a chunk of the 2019 season. After the criticism she took to Twitter to explain her absence. 

“The blasts that disrespect mothers (and our rights) in the WNBA is incredible,” tweeted Diggins-Smith on Saturday, Oct. 19 which was later deleted. “I can’t wait until you hear my story FROM ME!” She also mentioned that she was frustrated with her own team, the Dallas Wings, in a tweet that read, “Having no support from your own organization is unfortunate.”

These tweets did not fully explain the situation, until a third tweet was sent that said, “People called me a quitter, said I gave up on my team, etc., etc., Not knowing I took two FULL months away from everything because of postpartum depression. With limited resources to help me be successful mentally/physically. But just wait though….”

Diggins also stated that she played the entire 2018 season while pregnant with her first child, and did not disclose the information to anyone outside of her family until the season was over. Despite her pregnancy, she still led the league in minutes per game for the 2018 season. 

A big problem with these tweets were the responses, where people seemed to prefer to make jokes rather than give support. A number of users responded to the tweets by saying “So you guys had a six on five advantage while you were on the court,” asking if the baby was theirs or someone else’s such as Drake, and finally asking if it was safe for the baby, judging a decision they had no information on.

The WNBA and women’s basketball in general has long faced this problem of not being seen as a legitimate form of basketball, with people often responding to WNBA tweets from mainstream sources with outdated jokes like “that’s not a kitchen” or “shouldn’t she be making sandwiches.” And it was nearly impossible to find a tweet congratulating Diggins on the effort that had as much engagement as one of the outdated jokes made in the replies.

The Wings did not react well to these tweets, as the team said in a statement that confidentiality and privacy concerns prevented them from commenting on any individual player’s issues, but the team has employed licensed psychologists for all players since the franchise moved from Tulsa to Dallas in 2016. 

“These professionals have worked with our players in a team setting, and also have been made available to our athletes on a one-on-one basis,” team president and CEO, Greg Bibb said on Saturday, Oct. 19.

While the Wings have these benefits, many teams do not. The team paid Diggins-Smith her full salary whilst she was on maternity leave for the season, but WNBA rules allow teams to pay players on maternity leave as little as half of their season salary. 

As the WNBA players union moves forward with negotiating the league’s Collective Bargaining Agreement (CBA), Diggins wants to make benefits for moms and child care a league priority.

“I’ve already reached out to a few moms. As we negotiate with the CBA, how can we improve things?” Diggins-Smith said. “It’s about prioritization; we can’t have everything. But I’m going to bring that portion to the table because I’m a mom.”

Diggins-Smith will also be an unrestricted free agent going into 2020, and while she has voiced her displeasure with the Wings organization she has not openly said she wants to leave the team. “I’ve never told the Wings that I didn’t want to play for them next year,” said Diggins-Smith. “I said the conditions of our organization need to be improved. I was very transparent. We haven’t had a conversation about free agency or about coring, because we don’t really know [with the CBA still being negotiated].”

Diggins returned to the hardwood for the first time as a mother on Monday, Nov. 7, playing for Team USA in an exhibition against Texas A&M University, where she led the team with 19 points, proving she could still produce at a high level. 

The CBA negotiations have been extended for another 60 days, and Diggins-Smith has no intentions of slowing down when it comes to treatment of mothers in the league. While the Wings can deem Diggins-Smith a “core player” which would extend her through the 2020 season, it is more likely than ever we see her leave the organization that drafted her when free agency opens in January.

Ben Jansen can be reached at benjamin.jansen@spartans.ut.edu

 

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