Fair Pay in Sports?

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Sam Elkin, Online Staff Writer

As the Los Angeles Lakers defeated the Miami Heat in the NBA finals on October 11, 2020, Lebron James won his fourth championship ring. WNBA player Sue Bird  also won her fourth championship this season, as the Seattle Storm beat the Las Vegas Aces to win the WNBA finals with a sweep of 3-0 on October 6, 2020. 

These two legends, LeBron James and Sue Bird, should be paid equal salaries, based on their similar statistics and championship wins. However, LeBron was given around $370,000 as a finals bonus, whereas Sue Bird only received $11, 356. LeBron’s salary is $37.44 million annually, while Bird’s is only $215,000, which is one of the highest yearly earnings in the WNBA.

Some believe that unequal pay in sports is a form of misogyny and that gender shouldn’t determine pay. Increasing the salary of the WNBA would give more of an incentive for women to strive to play in the league and would increase the skill level of the player pool. Currently, many WNBA players also play for other club teams outside of the WNBA for more income, limiting the amount of time to rest and train in the offseason, which can affect their performances; for instance, Sylvia Fowles of the Minnesota Lynx has also played overseas in China at the same time as playing in the WNBA. Additionally, the Las Vegas Aces, in 2018, had to forfeit a game because of flight cancellations; this problem would never occur in the NBA, as teams have private jets to transport them to games. 

Junior Arnav Kokkirala noted that “It’s upsetting that [WNBA players] are paid so little, considering that they’re also professional athletes, but it also makes sense, considering how many more viewers and sales the NBA makes; it just has more revenue. I would focus on promoting the WNBA more if they want them to be paid more.” That being said, as Kokkirala mentioned, others argue that since the NBA generates more revenue than the WNBA and has a larger fanbase, the NBA players should get paid more than players in the WNBA. This makes sense, as the 2020 NBA finals had more viewers than the WNBA finals. Game 3 of the 2020 NBA finals had about 5.94 million viewers, which was surprisingly the lowest viewed NBA finals game in history. The WNBA finals, on the other hand, had only 440,000 viewers, which is still much less than the low turnout of the NBA finals. Don’t get me wrong, 440,000 viewers is still a significant amount, but it is diminutive compared to the average number of viewers for an NBA finals game. The average generated revenue of an NBA season is estimated to be $7.4 billion, while an average WNBA season produces less with $60 million in revenue. So, people against equal pay believe that since the NBA produces more revenue, the players should make more, hence the reason why LeBron was paid tremendously more than Sue Bird. 

According to freshman Aadi Shankar, “Sue Bird and LeBron James are both tremendous athletes. However, I think the wage difference is more dependent on the viewership difference between the WNBA and the NBA, rather than the skill of the players, even though it is unfair that the difference of wages is so drastic.” Although some may argue that the viewership and revenue of the NBA is much higher than that of the WNBA, the wage gap shouldn’t have such a large difference between male and female athletes, as Shankar noted. Because of this, this wage gap is improbable to change drastically, and for the foreseeable future, the NBA players will make more money than the WNBA players, as the NBA generates more revenue. However, a slight increase in the salaries of WNBA players would be more fair to them and could be a plausible, although not ideal, solution to the male and female athlete wage gap.

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