How new WNBA CBA could echo across all women’s sports

Kia-Nurse-2019

Kia Nurse in action for the New York Liberty. (Mike Lawrence via New York Liberty)

TORONTO – Friday promises to be a monumental day in women’s sport when, as part of the 2020 NHL All-Star Weekend festivities, the Elite Women’s 3-on-3 will make its debut.

As the name suggests, this is a 3-on-3 women’s hockey competition between some of the best talent from both the United States and Canada.

According to the NHL, this game will act as a strong showcase of the women’s game.

“The intention here is to give these elite players the forum they’ve earned and they deserve,” said Steve Mayer, NHL executive vice president and chief content officer, in a statement. “It’s thrilling for us to be able to give them this moment. This is a meaningful event — it’s on national television. Not only are they going to be performing and playing in front of 20,000 people in the arena, but they are also playing in front of 40 of the greatest players in the NHL. We’re so confident that they will put on a great display.”

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This event comes on the heels of another landmark announcement in women’s sport.

Last week, the WNBA and WNBPA reached a tentative agreement on a momentous eight-year collective bargaining agreement (CBA). Highlights include increased monetary compensation for the league as a whole, motherhood-planning amendments, and better travel and accommodation conditions for players.

It’s the kind of CBA that could be used as a standard-bearer for professional women’s leagues moving forward.

“It was just excitement — proud to see that some female athletes could generate a CBA like that because I think that it’s pretty expensive, and it seems like they really put themselves in a whole different class of professional athlete,” said Jayna Hefford, a four-time Olympic gold medallist and current operations consultant at the Professional Women’s Hockey Players Association (PWHPA), of her initial reaction to the news of this new WNBA CBA. “It was just really great news and really great to see that they could be treated like this.”

This kind of positive, enthusiastic reaction was echoed by the WNBA itself.

“I knew what we were voting for and what changes we were asking for,” said Kayla Alexander, a Canadian centre who last played for the Chicago Sky. “But I was happy that it went through, and that we were able to agree on it.”

Added New York Liberty guard Kia Nurse, whose cousin Sarah Nurse will be playing in Friday’s 3-on-3 game: “I think that’s a great step in the right direction for our league. … Our voices were heard [about] what we really thought needed to be changed in the quality of life as players and, obviously, on the financial side that got done in this deal.”

Kia Nurse is currently playing in Australia for the University of Canberra Capitals, a necessity for her since the best way for many women’s professional basketball players to make a living prior to this CBA was by playing overseas during the WNBA off-season.

“I think it’s a positive move, especially given the salaries that you see in Europe and in Asia where there are women’s professional leagues,” said Denise Dignard, Canada Basketball’s women’s high-performance director, of the new CBA.

But while increased salaries might look like the biggest feature of the CBA, the change that has really stood out to players is the much-improved motherhood revision, which, among other benefits, stipulates that players receive full salary while on maternity leave.

“It doesn’t affect me now — maybe sometime down the road — but the mothers in our league are absolute superheroes both on and off the court, and to be able to have them get support from our league is incredible,” said Nurse.

More than anything, though, with all the provisions made to this CBA, it now better allows young girls and women to dream of playing professional basketball as young boys and men do.

“These young women that are coming up through whatever ranks that they are … can look at us and say, ‘Hey, I wanna go and be a WNBA player.’ They can have that dream and they can have that aspiration, and I think that’s huge for the game,” Nurse said.

“By taking these first steps to improve the working environment and opportunity within women’s basketball, hopefully other sports will take notice and hopefully it’ll create this ripple effect,” said Alexander. “We’re creating an environment where people — and young girls, especially — want to be like, ‘Oh, OK, the working environments are great in women’s basketball and women’s sports, not just (for) the men.’”

Hefford, for one, believes that ripple effect has already begun.

“I think every sport is looking to them as leaders now,” said Hefford. “They’ve set the bar higher than, I think, for any female athlete in my mind. So I think they’re leaders in that sense and I think it’s just gonna make an impact on every sport.

“These women, the best basketball players, are gonna be big as role models. They’re going to be seen as athletes that young girls are going to want to look up to, and they’re going to be able to see them more. There’s going to be more visibility and I’d have to assume that there’s going to be more young girls who are going to want to play basketball simply because of this CBA. And not because of the nuts and bolts of it, but because these female athletes are going to be more prominent, and that’s what we want to see in every sport.

“That’s how we can continue to keep young girls in sport…. Let them see it and make it a realistic option for them to be a professional athlete.”

The WNBA is forging the path forward, and hopefully Friday’s 3-on-3 exhibition at NHL all-star weekend will be the first step of many taken in its wake.

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