She was the number one draft pick for the WNBA, a four-season All-American at University of Connecticut and a world championships gold-medalist for the U.S. national team. But as Maya Moore heads into preseason training for the Minnesota Lynx, she reflects on how going pro means she’s not longer just a basketball player: She’s also a business. Moore shared her thoughts with The Huffington Post on unions, fair pay in athletics and what is soon-to-be the “Maya” brand:
My mom mounted a basketball hoop in our apartment when I was three years old. Years before the WNBA even existed, I dreamed of becoming a professional basketball player, getting paid to play a game I loved. Just over a month ago, that dream became a reality, and it is at once everything and nothing that I imagined.
Nothing can compare to the privilege of being a role model. The feedback I get from little girls (and boys) telling me that I inspire them -- or to hear that they pretend they're me as they're practicing in the backyard -- is the most gratifying part of my job. I love to play, but even more, I love that it matters to someone. It is an honor and privilege to have my passion be my job, and I never forget that.
But it’s different in the pros. In high school and college, it was always about the team, not the individual. Now, it’s about creating a “brand” and selling oneself as a star separate from, and bigger than, the team. Now, it’s a business.
Professional sports, like any business, seek to maximize profits. As always, there are an infinite number of ways to cut costs and increase profits, yet, as always, it’s labor that takes the cut. Whether you’re in Wisconsin, the NFL or the NBA, labor gets the (sharp) spikey end of the stick.
whether you're a player in the WNBA or NFL or a farm worker, the fundamental issue is the same: Workers want to be paid fairly for their labors. I want to be paid fairly for my work. Because so many of the salaries in professional sports are higher than the average working American’s, athletes are seen as out of touch and prima donnas when our unions ask for more. But when we are painted as greedy and mercenary, as with any message, we must look behind the curtain at who is controlling that perception.
Owners have made players “the bad guys.” This isn’t taxpayer money. It’s discretionary money that individuals choose to spend to come and watch players play and be entertained. It’s not as if better salaries and benefits take money out of our schools. The only thing players’ wages affect is owners’ bottom line. Like agricultural workers, our jobs are arduous and have long-term effects on our bodies. Like agricultural workers, not every athlete is getting rich off his or her labor: Some MLS soccer players take make $32,000 a year. I have colleagues in the WNBA making $36,570.
Some of us do make a lot -- and those are the names you hear touted in newspapers and on TV -- but many athletes will labor in obscurity until they are no longer strong enough, fast enough, young enough to keep up. The average pro-athlete is as disposable to management as the average farm worker. Yes, we get paid better and for that, there is no lack of gratitude, but the fundamental unfairness still stings.
The question to ask -- across all these labor disputes -- is: How much of the profits of their labor do laborers deserve to earn? Unsurprisingly, owners and laborers fall on different sides of this issue, and I find myself empathizing with any union that seeks safer, healthier and fairer working conditions for its members. I realize that as a player in the WNBA, I am among the most privileged union members and that my working conditions are enviable. I am grateful for that. But just because I’m blessed doesn’t mean that I can forget the plight of my fellow laborers, hardworking athletes and non-athletes alike.
The labor negotiations between players and owners, between unions and management, is a negotiation going on across the country and across the world. The specifics are different, but the argument is the same. We, laborers, believe we deserve a fair share of the profits that are made off of our efforts.
I hope, as negotiations continue to unfold between players’ unions and management, that those watching will connect what is happening in pro sports to what is happening across the country. As the economy contracts and profits shrink, there appears an organized and systematic attack against labor, whether the attack is against auto workers or basketball players. The size of the salary may be different but the principle is the same: everyone deserves to be paid a fair percentage of the profits that are made off our labor.
This is one of a series of posts from WNBA players that will run throughout the 2011 season, exclusively on Huffington Post. Next week we will hear from Nicole Powell of the New York Liberty.