The WNBA Can’t Seem to Get Out of Its Own Way

Before I fully get in to this topic, let me preface this by saying I think Cathy Engelbert has done a great job so far during her tenure as league commissioner. She addressed some needs that seem basic on the surface but the addition of those services greatly impacted the players and have made their professional lives a little easier. And with the world heading into a pandemic then becoming engulfed in civil unrest, the league once again showed their moxie. They celebrated their incoming rookies via a virtual draft and championed their players who fully devoted themselves to the fight against racial and social injustices.

The WNBA has definitely been gaining momentum. And now with the league in a place where they’re starting to be embraced at a level they haven’t been in years, they had two missteps that could have been easily avoided. With many WNBA players protesting in unison against the recent murders of Black people by law enforcement, Kelly Loeffler decides to seize the opportunity to be ignorant. In the wake of her comments about the Black Lives Matter movement and expressing her disapproval of players wearing supportive messaging on their jerseys, there was massive outcry from players to remove Loeffler from her position within the Atlanta Dream franchise. This seemed like an easy win. A nice, slow, fat one right over the plate just waiting for Engelbert to knock it out of the park. And quite honestly, she whiffed. Now this isn’t disastrous as Loeffler will undoubtedly be completely disassociated with the WNBA at some point. But why not just nip this in the bud immediately?

I understand Engelbert’s stance. I really do. But This is a pretty easy decision here. It’s very reminiscent of the Donald Sterling saga in the NBA a few years ago. There’s only one answer. Even though Loeffler’s involvement in the organization is minimal, that doesn’t seem to matter in the eyes of the players. When you have some of the most notable names in the league putting basketball to the side to battle racial injustices and an executive who verbally discredits those efforts, you simply remove them. And even looking at this void of any moral implications, keeping her around any longer than necessary is just bad business. You’ve got someone in the ranks which pretty much 100% of your work force disapproves of. Why prolong her removal?

Players have been vocal about their desire to have Loeffler no longer be a part of their league. And they will voice that desire everyday until that’s the case. And as we all know, controversial and negative headlines will always drown out the positive ones. The effort to grow the league is an uphill battle as is. There is no need to add any layers of difficulty to this mission.

Another recent situation that was oddly handled was the decision to deny Elena Delle Donne’s medical exemption request for the upcoming season. With many players having no issues getting excused from playing due to health concerns and others sitting out for personal reasons, it was confusing as to why EDD was denied. She suffers from Lyme disease which compromises her immune system and puts her at great risk should she contract the Coronavirus. It didn’t seem logical to put her in a position to decide whether to play and risk her life or forfeit her salary. I just don’t understand why you would go out of your way to put your reigning MVP in a position to speak against you. The league is really lucky that Delle Donne decided not to be overly critical of this decision. This could have gone really bad for them. But Elena seems only interested in sharing her plight and her medical journey and not demonizing the W.

And again even if you put the concern for the individual aside, this is just a bad decision. It wouldn’t have exactly been a reach to grant the exemption anyway. Even if it was a 12th woman in this situation and the request was denied there would have been backlash. But to do it to your MVP who just delivered a championship is downright irresponsible. It really doesn’t help that not two days later  one of her teammates was granted a medical exemption. While I’m positive this wasn’t meant to be aimed at Delle Donne in any way, there had to be some unintended salt thrown in the wound here.

The current league administration has had basically flawless decision making up to this point. No one is going to shoot 100% from the field, I get that. But I’m pretty sure you’d rather miss half court heaves than lay ups. These last two situations were definitely bunnies and the league blew them. Again, these aren’t the types of things that will cause any major setbacks. They are seeking investors to overtake Loeffler’s shares and the Mystics have announced that they will cover Delle Donne’s full salary even if she decides to sit out. Alls well that ends well and these will be satisfactory results when they finally come to fruition. But this is the equivalent of getting a D on a test when you could have gotten an A+. Sure you passed but you definitely could have done better. No wait, this is worse. This is like getting a D on an open book test. The answers were right there yet they chose to ignore them.

The WNBA is garnering more and more support by the day. But they unnecessarily tripped themselves up with this one. This season will be one for the history books and the league has handled most issues perfectly. I have no doubt they will move through the 2020 campaign with their usual flair and grace. A couple of blemishes on the record doesn’t negate a successful season. Ask the ’96 Bulls.

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