Minnesota Lynx Seimone Augustus goes deep on why WNBA players go overseas to make more money
WNBA players need higher wages and playing all over the globe helps, but there are consequences
A week after Minnesota Lynx guard Seimone Augustus finished her seven-month season in Russia with the Dynamo Kursk, she was back in Minneapolis for WNBA training camp.
This has been the routine for Augustus, who is entering her 11th season in the league, for eight years now. To make a satisfactory wage, the three-time WNBA champion has opted to give up summers, time with her family and her wife of almost two years to play overseas.
Augustus discussed the wage discrepancy in the WNBA versus international professional leagues with VICE Sports and ESPN Films as a part of executive producer Carmelo Anthony’s The Clubhouse shorts.
“If I have a daughter, I want her to dream just as big as my son,” Augustus said in the film.
As of 2014, almost three-quarters of WNBA players were playing for teams overseas, with some, like Washington Mystic Kristi Toliver, juggling three teams. As juniors and seniors in college, women interested in pursuing a professional career are abruptly introduced to the reality that they will probably have to leave home to earn max money.
In the WNBA, the maximum income a player could earn in 2016 was $109,000. In Russia, that number tripled to $325,000 for one season and as of 2014, a player could earn an estimated $600,000 playing in China, as Brittney Griner reportedly did.
There are a few WNBA players, such as Skylar Diggins and Elena Della Donne, who earn big money from their endorsements, who don’t have to play abroad to pay the bills. But stars such as Crystal Langhorne, Angel McCoughtry, Maya Moore, Nneka Ogwumike, Candace Parker, and many more work during the WNBA offseason.
The WNBA’s stance on the double-dipping can best be described as uneasy. In 2016, the league negotiated with its players association to include a provision in the new collective bargaining agreement that allows teams — or the league itself — to fine players beyond the salary they automatically forfeit, for missing games because of overseas obligations. The league also gave each team a $50,000 “time-off” fund that the team can distribute to players who choose not to go overseas or who limit overseas play to fewer than 90 days.
“The notion of trying to find a way to both recognize the overseas play but also offer an incentive to limit that overseas play was very important to our ownership group,” WNBA president Laurel Richie told The Washington Post in 2014 after the new labor agreement.
As stated, players such as Augustus, who is a three-time Olympic gold medalist, get little to no break when they rotate going from their three-month WNBA season to their foreign teams. This creates little time to mentally and physically recover from long stretches of play and injuries that occur over the course of play. Small injuries can turn into long-term issues requiring surgery without appropriate rest and recovery.
“Obviously, we have to come out and put quality basketball on the floor,” Augustus said. “It’s very hard at times to have quality basketball and have players that are at 100 percent when we play year-round and we’re all kind of banged up. We’re doing the best that we can with the damage that’s been done to our body and very little break.”
While in the NBA, teams have been wary of putting brands on the jersey, Augustus believes branding could be a potential way to increase the stream of money coming into the WNBA and down to the players. The five-time All-Star said teams can do more to increase exposure of their players and their accomplishments by expanding media coverage. NBA players constantly use their likenesses to create greater earnings through endorsing products and services, which could benefit the WNBA as well on a wider scale.
“Without a doubt, we should be able to get those sponsorship deals and really promo that,” said Augustus. “There are just some areas we haven’t tapped into yet. I don’t know why, but there’s a lot of stuff that we can actually get involved with that men cannot touch. You’re not going to catch a man on a Tampax commercial. There’s many things that women use on a day-to-day basis that the league can use and we can use to get where we want to go.”
Augustus explained that she isn’t leaving the WNBA, because she wants there to be something for future generations to aspire to. She also said it would be a letdown of all the work the founders of the league put into it if the current players decided to forgo the league for increased earnings.