June 9, 2020 

WNBA players, former Sparks GM Penny Toler speak out about WNBA proposed plan

In a video posted to Instagram, Toler said, "In my opinion, the players should receive their whole salary."

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Members of the Los Angeles Sparks during against the Connecticut Sun on May 24, 2019. (Photo: Chris Poss)

As members of the WNBPA Executive Committee planned to meet with WNBA commissioner Cathy Engelbert Tuesday evening, new gaps opened in the consensus that has reigned among the league’s players and leadership within the WNBPA, with new skepticism raising questions about the rank-and-file buy-in of the league’s plan.

“Our EC is talking to Cathy tonight and they are not listening,” one WNBA player told The Next.

A request for comment to both the WNBA and WNBPA was not immediately answered. We will update if and when we get one.

Last week, ESPN’s Mechelle Voepel reported that the WNBA was in early talks for a 22-game regular season with a proposed July 24 start date. The league was set to have a 36-game regular season starting May 15, but Engelbert was forced to suspend operations in early April due to the global COVID-19 pandemic. According to Voepel’s sources, the proposed shortened season would see players receive just “60% of their normal salaries.”

The WNBA’s reported 22-game regular season proposal is still very much in the planning stage, as many details regarding housing and testing have not been specified. And our Ari Chambers reports that there are still significant concerns from players around the league.

On Tuesday, former general manager for the Los Angeles Sparks Penny Toler gave her thoughts on the reported league proposal, stating that the league should pay players their entire salary in a video she posted to her private Instagram account.

“In my opinion, the players should receive their whole salary,” Toler said.

Toler, who served as the Sparks GM for 20 years, was fired in October shortly after it was reported that she used a racial slur toward her players after a playoff loss to the Connecticut Sun. Prior to joining the team’s front office, Toler played for the Sparks from the league’s inception in 1997 to 1999, scoring the first points in WNBA history in a Los Angeles jersey and becoming the first Sparks player to have her jersey retired.

However, the relationship between Toler and the Sparks organization still seems fraught, as she is currently suing the team for wrongful termination. According to the lawsuit which she filed in March, Toler alleged that her termination was instead a result of her speaking up about sexual misconduct involving senior members of the Sparks, and former Sparks and current Wings head coach Brian Agler.

In her video, Toler highlighted the obvious health risks that WNBA players would undertake in order to play this summer amidst a global pandemic.

“These young ladies, as well as the men in the NBA, are putting their lives on the line to come back,” Toler said. “Yes, to earn a salary of course, but also putting their lives on the line because sports do make people better. So I don’t feel that any of the women players should be taking a pay cut, even though they’re having a 22-game season.”

Toler also pointed out that most WNBA players do not make “millions of dollars,” unlike their male counterparts. Though the league’s new collective bargaining agreement saw a 53% increase in total cash compensation, the average WNBA salary is nearly $130,000. And for those who did not sign new contracts this offseason, they are getting paid less, based on the old CBA. And, as Matt Ellentuck reported, the minimum salary for inexperienced players is $57,000. Additionally, players currently “receive around 20%” of shared league revenue, according to Kelsey Plum, although that figure could increase in 2021.

Toler went on to argue that the league “Should be able to afford” paying the players their full salary this summer due to the fewer financial burdens of having a single-site season.

“That’s gonna be easier for ESPN to record, it’s gonna be easier to have access to all the players in the league, there’s a lot, a lot of financial gains that they should have money in pocket to pay the players their whole salary,” she said.

Other concerns about the proposed plan have emerged, including what the food and living situations will be like. It also remains to be seen whether players will be able to opt out of the plan, which is possible for the NWSL’s Challenge Cup, scheduled to take place in Utah later this month. As the Associated Press’ Annie M. Peterson reported, the NWSL also met with its players who are moms to hear their specific concerns and will allow their children and caretakers to travel to Utah.

As a WNBA player put it to The Next, “Players want an opt-out option that they’re not giving us. Emphasis on our EC representing us the way that they should. We’re voicing our opinions and they’re not hearing us! Also, they’re forcing our hands by keeping us in the dark. The more time goes by, the more we’re being fucked.”

Much more to come on this.

Written by Ari Chambers

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