Why WNBA Player Skylar Diggins-Smith Is Speaking Up About Sexism In Basketball

"It's the perfect time to speak out on it."

Earlier this year, WNBA player Skylar Diggins-Smith spoke out about the inequality that exists between men's and women's basketball — from salaries to TV coverage. Now, in a new interview with Elle, she expands on why she chose to draw attention to this sexist treatment, and how things can change.

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In an essay for Wealthsimple in August, Diggins-Smith cited the statistic that NBA players receive about 50 percent of the league's revenue, while for WNBA players, "the percentage is in the twenties." She revealed that she earns the highest salary on the Dallas Wings, but still only makes "in the low six figures," compared to Harrison Barnes, the highest-paid player on the Dallas Mavericks, who made $24 million last season.

Diggins-Smith also discussed other discrepancies between the two leagues, including the lack of pay from jersey sales for the women, and a policy requiring WNBA players to fly commercial. That's not to mention the dearth of airtime on ESPN — despite reports that ratings for WNBA games are actually rising. It's clear that female players don't receive equal treatment, and Diggins-Smith says that needs to change.

"I'm at a loss for words sometimes, talking about this. It's unfortunate that men make more money for the same amount of work, or even less work," she wrote, wondering what she would tell a daughter who wants to play for the WNBA. 

When asked why she chose to speak out about these issues, Diggins-Smith told Elle that she feels a responsiblity not only to the kids who look up to her, but also to the players who came before her. "We stand on the shoulders of a lot of women who've done a lot of the legwork and it's time for us to do our part with social media and other ways to connect with people and to get the messaging out there," she said. "It's the perfect time to speak out on it and just try to make the league better."

She acknowledged that she has received "pushback," but that won't stop her from speaking out. "I think the most important thing is starting the conversation and having these conversations," she shared. "I think that's how you see change."

Diggins-Smith isn't alone in her fight. She said she has conversations with other female athletes about these issues through "social media, meetings, text messages, and DMs." She expressed hope for the upcoming collective bargaining agreement between the WNBA and the Players Association, in which "all 144 women of the WNBA have the power and a seat at the table to drive that change we want to see for our league in the future."

And to those who argue that the WNBA doesn't sell enough seats, Diggins-Smith pointed once again to the limited coverage it receives compared to the NBA. "We're not provided with the same platform to be as successful," she said. "That's what we're fighting for, to have the platform, to have the resources, and to be as successful."

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