Maya Moore hit the nail on the head, and no one is talking about it

Last week Maya Moore, a star WNBA basketball player for the Minnesota Lynx, penned a piece for The Player’s Tribune lamenting the dearth of visibility for professional women’s basketball players in the United States. The core of her argument was that the WNBA has an amazing product, but not the buy-in from the public or corporate America. There are no Maya Moore shoes. I cannot purchase a Diana Taurasi jersey in the WNBA store. It is rare that I see highlights of games on Sportscenter. Maya Moore is right, and no one is talking about it, and that’s the problem.

What Moore did not name outright, however, is the underlying root paradigm of this discussion: sexism. There is a pervasive attitude in this country that assumes women’s basketball is a lesser sport than men’s basketball, simply because it is played by women. There are descriptors used to mask that sentiment, such as the notion that the game is “less interesting,” there aren’t any dunks, it’s slower, etc.

Professional women’s basketball is in a little bit of a crisis, and it is not a very talked about phenomenon. Earlier this year, Diana Taurasi announced that she would not play this WNBA season. Taurasi, who plays overseas during the months the WNBA is not in season, accepted a deal from UMMC Eketerinburg that would effectively pay her more to not play in the WNBA. The top WNBA salary is $107,000 per season. That salary is earned, however, by more than one player on each team, with many coaches making double that.  In the NBA, only the top players in the league have maximum contracts, that pay on average between 19 and 24 million dollars  per year. But even without the comparison to the NBA, it behooves WNBA stars to play overseas, where their salaries can be 12 to 15 times their WNBA salaries. Taurasi makes 1.5 million playing for UMMC. This isn’t necessarily a global women’s basketball problem — it’s an American women’s basketball problem.

The issue at hand is about more than salaries, though. It comes down to Moore’s main point: that the WNBA has a great product but not the visibility to match it. As someone who played and loves basketball, I agree with her; the WNBA is awesome! I remember going to games with my dad as a kid, and we had to drive two hours every time we went. We lucked into sixth row tickets one game, right behind the basket. My brother shouted something nice to Diana Taurasi as she shot a free throw, and she winked at him. He still tells this story with pride.

I grew up watching these players, like Maya, and arguing on their behalf every time I picked up a ball at recess. When asked for the names of my favorite basketball players, my response is: Diana Taurasi, Sue Bird, Maya Moore, and Kobe Bryant. Many of the players I coached would name at least one man, if not all men, if asked the same question. I have yet to hear a man name a woman as an athlete whom he admires. That doesn’t mean it doesn’t or won’t ever happen, but that underscores the tension that Moore outlines in her piece.

She may think the WNBA is a great product, I may think the WNBA is a great product, but not everyone does. And that’s at least partly because the public hasn’t been given the opportunity to. As Moore writes, “Engaged and invested cultural influencers and partners in corporate America are crucial in elevating the profile of the WNBA.”

There’s an assumption of masculinity in the sports world, especially when marketing to fans. My senior year of college, I attended a lecture by Cheryl Reeve, the head coach of the Minnesota Lynx, and she consistently talked about getting the “SportsCenter bros” (her language, not mine) on board with the league and making them pay attention. That necessitates marketing towards men — or the existing sports fan base who participate in a male-centric culture — in the hopes of convincing them that women are excellent athletes. The WNBA tried that approach with their uniform redesigns, and I’m with Moore on this when she said: “I want someone to watch me play because of my jump shot, not my tight shorts.”

The WNBA’s marketing strategy is changing, focusing more on recruiting female fans and acknowledging LGBTQ fans, out of a recognition that women inspire other women, and emphasizing that its affordability makes the WNBA one of the most family-friendly leagues out there. This shift is excellent, but I’m wondering if it is enough.

What makes the WNBA great is the players. Regardless of the money overseas, the American players continue to make it a priority to come home and play for very little money, and almost no glory. They do that because they believe in the league and want to make it work. The WNBA is the longest-running professional women’s sports league in the United States. There are improvements to be made, but overall, it is a successful league. The key to that success, however, has been not just the quality of play but also the quality of athletes. I am concerned that there could be more players who follow the lead of Diana Taurasi due to the many issues highlighted by Maya Moore. That would spell disaster for the WNBA, as well as all of women’s sports.

Header image credit: Huffington Post


Katie Barnes (they/them/their) is a pop-culture obsessed activist and writer. While at St. Olaf College studying History and (oddly) Russian (among other things), Katie fell in love with politics, and doing the hard work in the hard places. A retired fanfiction writer, Katie now actually enjoys writing with their name attached. Katie actually loves cornfields, and thinks there is nothing better than a summer night's drive through the Indiana countryside. They love basketball and are a huge fan of the UConn women's team. When not fighting the good fight, you can usually find Katie watching sports, writing, or reading a good book.

Katie Barnes is a pop-culture obsessed activist and writer.

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