CloseMechelle Voepel covers the WNBA, ladies’s school basketball, and different school sports activities for espnW. Voepel started protecting ladies’s basketball in 1984, and has been with ESPN since 1996.
The WNBA’s resolution final week to pay injured Seattle Storm ahead Breanna Stewart as a league “ambassador” this season might sound at first look an innocuous public relations transfer. However different WNBA gamers, common managers, coaches and brokers have had many questions on it — together with how and when the settlement took place, what it entails, and what it means for the long run.
“This was definitely a shock to me, this group and our friends,” Atlanta Dream coach Nicki Collen mentioned, echoing what a number of others within the league informed ESPN.com. “Whereas it has the muse to be a superb program, it should not be unveiled with out enter from the groups and/or the Board of Governors.”
And that is the issue. Too few particulars have been shared by the WNBA, partially as a result of the precise nature of Stewart’s work for the league nonetheless hasn’t been decided. In actual fact, the league has but to make a proper announcement about Stewart being an envoy.
Is that this actually the beginning of a program that the WNBA will use to compensate gamers, particularly when they’re harm? Or is it distinctive to Stewart, the 2018 WNBA MVP who was injured April 14 whereas competing for her Russian workforce, Dynamo Kursk, within the EuroLeague ultimate 4 championship recreation?
“The conversations that we have been having with the gamers’ affiliation is that sooner or later, there can be many extra of those,” mentioned Mark Tatum, who stays as interim WNBA president till newly employed commissioner Cathy Engelbert takes over in July. “That this won’t be a one-off state of affairs, and that our gamers can be our companions in serving to to advertise and market the league. That is one in what I anticipate to be a number of preparations like this that can happen sooner or later.”
However the league did not say any of this final week when the information was reported.
“The WNBA ought to have made an announcement once they determined to go ahead with this,” mentioned Ticha Penicheiro, a longtime WNBA veteran who’s now a participant agent. “And so they did not, so there was extra room for hypothesis. Individuals are going to poke at it as a result of it looks as if it is a little bit unfair to different groups and gamers. Till the league offers extra clarification, all of us are simply guessing. We’re joyful for Stewie, but when they’d made an announcement proper method, it most likely would have prevented a variety of questions.”
The league mentioned it made agreements prior to now with some gamers like Tamika Catchings and Swin Money to do promotional work out and in of season for a lump sum. However that is believed to be the primary time an injured participant will get a contract to work for the league throughout the season and obtain a wage that is in extra of her projected base wage had she performed ($65,000 as Stewart is on the final season of her rookie deal).
“We have now talked extra about participating our gamers within the advertising and promotion of the league,” Tatum mentioned. “We mentioned we have got the reigning MVP who’s going to be in the US rehabilitating and who’s going to be accessible to do sure issues.
“Breanna has a want to do extra on the grass-roots basketball stage, so we will focus there. We’re nonetheless refining the issues that we will do collectively, then we’ll get [the contract] signed and at that time we might formally begin speaking in regards to the sorts of issues we’ll be doing.”
“The conversations that we have been having with the gamers’ affiliation is that sooner or later, there can be many extra of those [ambassador roles]. That this won’t be a one-off state of affairs.”
Mark Tatum, interim WNBA president
As for why Stewart is now going to be making an even bigger base wage whereas not enjoying than she would have if she performed, Tatum mentioned, “That is the going worth to have a league advertising settlement with the reigning MVP of the WNBA.”
However what’s that primarily based on, particularly since her function hasn’t been totally outlined?
“It was in dialog along with her agent,” Tatum mentioned. “The roles and duties are very totally different right here with what we’re asking her to do, being a consultant and an engaged accomplice in selling the league and being devoted to that in a time when she’s not enjoying. That is what we’re paying her for.”
Tatum mentioned this cope with Stewart was allowed below the present collective bargaining settlement, which now expires after this season. Final fall, the gamers opted out of the settlement that originally ran by 2021. The Girls’s Nationwide Basketball Gamers Affiliation, below the path of Terri Jackson, is within the midst of collective bargaining for 2020 and past.
However the union was not concerned within the negotiation of this cope with Stewart. In actual fact, the union wasn’t knowledgeable about it till final Thursday evening, shortly earlier than the league launched the information. The union did not have time to alert the gamers’ government council earlier than the information got here out on Twitter, and the league had not knowledgeable the opposite 11 groups.
“I did not comprehend it was occurring,” mentioned gamers’ government council president Nneka Ogwumike, the Los Angeles Sparks ahead who’s represented by the identical agent as Stewart, Lindsay Kagawa Colas. “I see the chance, and I am hoping it is one thing that can be made accessible to different gamers.
“However I used to be simply as stunned as anybody. We’ll need to see what occurs so far as the lasting results of it. I am hoping it may be one thing included into the help and funding that we’re searching for.”
“I see the chance, and I am hoping it is one thing that can be made accessible to different gamers. However I used to be simply as stunned as anybody.”
Nneka Ogwumike, Sparks ahead and government council president of the gamers’ union
The timing was one other concern for WNBA franchises. Every workforce needed to minimize its roster all the way down to 12 gamers by 5 p.m. ET final Thursday. Different groups questioned whether or not the Storm had been conscious of Stewart’s impending cope with the league, so it made it simpler for them to droop her with no wage. That might have been seen because the league particularly serving to the Storm with their wage cap.
However each Tatum and Colas say that nothing had even been mentioned about Stewart working for the league till after she already had been suspended by Seattle.
“The league has sworn Seattle knew nothing about it,” Las Vegas Aces coach Invoice Laimbeer mentioned. “As a result of we, like the opposite groups, referred to as up and tried to determine that out. Nobody informed us prematurely, so when it got here out, it was like, ‘What the heck is that this?’
“With nice gamers like Stewie on this state of affairs, the query is do you pay her despite the fact that she’s out, or do you droop her with no cash? In the event that they knew it was coming, it made their resolution simpler to droop her, as a result of she’ll receives a commission by the league and so they might use that cash on another person. All of us requested the identical query. As a result of it is type of uncommon to make the choice to droop your franchise participant. Usually you pay them.”
Colas mentioned the Storm had been keen to pay Stewart for the season, despite the fact that they weren’t mandated to since her damage occurred whereas working for an additional employer. Colas mentioned it was Stewart’s resolution to inform the Storm they need to droop her with out pay and use the cash on one other participant to assist the franchise.
“Do the main points must get ironed out? Sure. … It appears like this simply obtained thrown in our faces. However concurrently, I am simply attempting to see the constructive and the way can we work with this and make it a superb factor.”
Seattle Storm guard Sue Chicken
Storm common supervisor Alisha Valvanis didn’t tackle the subject of Stewart’s ambassadorship when requested by ESPN.com. Stewart hasn’t addressed it besides to ESPN’s Holly Rowe in an interview throughout the Seattle-Phoenix recreation on ABC on Saturday. Stewart mentioned then that the main points of the ambassador function had been nonetheless being labored out.
Storm veteran guard Sue Chicken, who’s out indefinitely awaiting knee surgical procedure, spoke about it Saturday to ESPN.com’s Kevin Pelton.
“Do the main points must get ironed out? Sure. Will we as gamers want to know what this implies transferring ahead, what number of gamers is that this going to get provided to, how lengthy is the size of the contract, if you’ll? Sure, there’s like a billion particulars. It appears like this simply obtained thrown in our faces,” Chicken mentioned. “However concurrently, I am simply attempting to see the constructive and the way can we work with this and make it a superb factor.”
Collen has a star participant in Angel McCoughtry, whose standing for 2019 is unsure as she’s nonetheless rehabbing an ACL damage. McCoughtry was injured throughout a WNBA recreation final season, so the Dream could not droop her with out pay. They may have paid her anyway, although, as a good-faith gesture, as different groups have executed with injured gamers.
However Collen makes a degree that if there’s to be an envoy “program,” all groups may gain advantage.
“There are a lot of deserving athletes not enjoying this season attributable to damage, all of whom could possibly be ambassadors in markets and throughout the league,” she mentioned. “Ambassadors are influencers, and there are 144 on this league, all deserving of a chance to be paid at or above their present wage if an damage befalls them.”
Others really feel that for optimum affect, an “ambassadorship” must be reserved for the league’s easiest gamers. And that dialogue — will the league make better progress by doing extra for its stars — is a part of the continuing CBA negotiations.
However the backside line is the settlement with Stewart wanted to be offered to the remainder of the gamers and groups in a method that gave all of them the solutions up entrance, as an alternative of leaving them with so many questions.