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WNBA players act more as independent contractors than teammates

Most media members who bother with the WNBA — the few, the proud — espouse a narrative lopsidedly sympathetic toward the players. Something like this:

The poor, aggrieved women don't get treated with the same respect as their NBA brethren, thus calling for an overhaul in the next collective bargaining agreement, giving WNBA players the comparative respect (and money) they deserve.

It's kind of a bulletproof argument, if for no other reason than you get to avoid being called a sexist.

And yet the developments of this past weekend suggest that WNBA players don't know how lucky they are. Because relative anonymity has its privileges.

The WNBA has a pox on its house that isn't likely to be fixed: Players who dictate where they will or won't play and threaten to sit out entire seasons, leaving teammates, coaches and franchises on those precarious pieces of real estate east of the rock and west of the hard place.

Latest example: Chiney Ogwumike, the former forward for the Connecticut Sun, who decided she wanted to play with her sister, Nneka, in Los Angeles. Ogwumike told Sun management that she would sit out the summer and work for ESPN full-time if a trade couldn't be worked out. And so, a young woman in whom the Sun invested money, time, hopes and dreams gets to walk between the raindrops with no recourse whatsoever.

The Sun got a draft choice in return.

So much for the concept of competitive balance.

Maybe we can argue that Sun coach Curt Miller could have held out for more. But that's hardly the point.

The point is that WNBA players benefit from their relative anonymity. If the same number of elite NBA players pulled the same act — Ogwumike, remember, is hardly the first WNBA player to do this — they'd have faced pervasive media scrutiny and the court of public opinion. Unflattering labels would rain on them like hailstones. They'd be pariahs in certain places.

But in the WNBA? The court of public opinion could fit inside one of Shaq's old sneakers. The league's gatekeepers perhaps view that negatively. But not when it comes to the I-want-what-I-want-when-I-want-it players.

Imagine if Ogwumike truly had to answer some hard questions about this:

"Chiney, you express the desire to play with your sister, but what about the 11 sisters you're leaving behind in Connecticut?"

"Chiney, doesn't this come off as selfish?"

"Chiney, how could you do this to the Sun, who paid you for an entire season (2015) when you were hurt ... when they didn't have to?"

All fair questions, by the way.

But then, as previously mentioned: This is the WNBA. Not enough fans and media to hold anybody accountable. So, players feel bulletproof enough to act more as independent contractors than teammates.

And what are owners to do, really?

WNBA players, because they don't make the money here they do in Europe, are empowered by the salary imbalance. They don't need the WNBA. And they sure act that way, don't they?

WNBA owners are in no position to pay the players more money. Revenues just aren't there, evidenced by NBA commissioner Adam Silver's quote to recently, saying that the NBA will lose $12 million this year on its WNBA endeavor.

Seems to me WNBA players want to benefit from the double standard: whine about not making enough money, but then use it as leverage to threaten their franchises with not playing.

Here's hoping fans, ownership and media can see through the charade.

Because that's what this is.

Let me just say that I've always liked Chiney Ogwumike. She was very good to me here in Connecticut. Quotable, accessible, insightful. I'll always like her. And on some levels, I don't blame her for her desire to play with her sister in a big city with an ESPN presence.

But I don't have to like the way WNBA players come off as persecuted. They have it pretty good. Not bad salaries for four months' work. With the clear ability to dictate labor terms in ways not many other professional athletes do. And never having to answer for it. Good gig if you can get it.

This is the opinion of Day sports columnist Mike DiMauro


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