The WNBA is faced with a mounting public relations problem with James Dolan inexplicably hiring Isiah Thomas once again, this time as President of the New York Liberty. As if Thomas’ inept history of compotently running businesses and franchises isn’t bad enough, there’s the matter of his history of sexual harassment as well. That harassment led to an $11 million dollar settlement that had to be paid out. And now that same person is being charged with operating a WNBA franchise. Was Donald Sterling not available?
While the WNBA deals with the Isiah fallout, there’s another story that has arisen that should lead to a serious inquiry from the league and the rest of the sports world when it comes to equal treatment for women.
Brooke Weisbrod is a color commentator for ESPN’s men’s and women’s college basketball coverage and has served as the analyst for the WNBA’s Chicago Sky. Recently, the Sky gave the axe to both her and broadcast partner Lisa Byington (who also works nationally for BTN). Weisbrod wrote on her website that the two men who were replacing her and Byington were being given a significant pay raise. She also spoke out about the Sky saying goodbye to the league’s only all-female broadcast team. (UPDATE: The Lynx’s television crew that calls 15 games a year is also an all-female broadcast booth):
Women. Not. Being. Acknowledged.
Enthusiasm and experience were the reasons conveyed to me by Sky CEO Adam Fox when I asked why Lisa Byington and I were being replaced after calling the Sky’s games for the last two seasons. She and I have also called hundreds of women’s college games for the biggest networks in the country and have followed the careers of most of today’s WNBA players since they were 18 year-old freshman. We both played the game. Byington’s Northwestern Wildcats made the NCAA Tournament, and I played a few months professionally in Germany before an injury led me to find my life again in broadcasting. I’m speaking for both of us when I say I’m more than confident we come to the broadcast table every game enthused and experienced.
The Sky (and the WNBA) had something unique and special going — they had the only all-female broadcast team in the league. So what message does it send to replace those two females with two males and then offer them a 50% raise? At the same time, the WNBA and NBA are using the league’s biggest stars, including Lebron James and the Sky’s own Elena Delle Donne to encourage men to “Lean In”, to show the world they’re ready for equality. But the #LeanInTogether movement hasn’t made its way yet to the Sky’s front office.
I was told not much attention was paid to the makeup of the league’s broadcast teams, and that Sky owner Michael Alter “probably didn’t even realize what he had.” That’s the point, how when it came down to it, three front office executives for a women’s professional basketball team made the decision they did without realizing the irony that was taking place. But certainly, “It’s a conversation that warrants more attention.” That was two days ago, and I haven’t missed any calls. Just two weeks ago, April 14th was recognized as Equal Pay Day. Excuse me while I get my Patricia Arquette on.
The Sky did bring in two announcers who also have national television experience in play by play man Eric Collins and analyst Stephen Bardo. But the pay discrepancy that Weisbrod alleges here is alarming and the WNBA simply has to respond to what has been put forward here.
When you combine this story with the optics of the New York Liberty bringing in Isiah Thomas to pilot the ship, there’s certain to be plenty of questions for WNBA management in the weeks and months to come.