A false argument sometimes used in comparing women and men pro athletes, especially in basketball, is using pay disparity as a starting point. Rather this week’s “View,” for your consideration, offers the following fact of at least equal if not greater importance than the pay issue: WNBA athletes work longer than their NBA counterparts.
Call it you will, there’s no rest for female hoopsters.
While NBA athletes typically get up to three months or more as an off-season, most if not all WNBA athletes’ passports are annually stamped as they head overseas and virtually play all year long, from season to season.
“I’ve been going for nine years non-stop, back and forth,” admits New York Guard Cappie Pondexter, a nine-year veteran. “I [once] had torn my retina and had surgery, and I was out for a month” back in 2009, she says. “That probably was my longest break I’ve had, but that was because of injury.”
“Early in my career we weren’t winning, so I had a little extra time before I had to head over,” says ninth-year Lynx Guard Seimone Augustus. “I would say, combined I may have had six months out of seven-eight years playing basketball. But ever since we’ve been a powerhouse team, I’ve had six weeks [off] in an entire year.”
Lynx Team Doctor Joel Boyd when asked measured an athlete’s active shelf life in dog years. Playing two seasons in one year “is like two-for-one, or three-for-one. I think it does shorten their overall career just because of the exposure many more times than their male counterparts,” he points out.
“I don’t do the year-round thing,” says Stars Forward Sophia Young-Malcom, a nine-year veteran. “Last year I didn’t go [overseas] at all. I think some players can do it and their bodies hold up, but for me mentally it is difficult.”
Observed Lynx Broadcast Analyst Lea B. Olsen, “You see a lot of players just exhausted when they get to the WNBA season. I don’t notice it with this Lynx team because they play at such a high level, but ultimately the wear and tear on the bodies for anybody that plays basketball year-round is going to be harder to recover.”
Indiana’s Tamika Catchings explained in an ESPN article, “It takes a toll on your body. You look at my knees and my ankle, and injuries have been bad for me.”
Exactly, continues Dr. Boyd. “It’s almost impossible” for any athlete, whether male or female, to play all year long at a high level, he explains.
“In pretty much every other sport, the recovery [time] is the off-season. Between overseas and here, [WNBA players] don’t get an off-season, so their bodies don’t get a chance to settle down and recover from any injuries, strains and sprains. But they are back into it, either way.
“Everybody comes back a little tired and a little nicked up [from overseas play]. All of that contributes” to susceptibility to injury at some point, says Boyd.
However, if we were talking about NBA players, the outrage by male chauvinist media types and fans would be heard from sea to shining sea. But since it’s women — oh, well.
“I’m 31, and I’ve been blessed and fortunate enough not to have had any major injuries and be able to play,” says Pondexter. “[However,] this past off season and the last off-season was the first time I actually felt my body going down in terms of minor injuries,” recalls the 5’-9” player.
“It’s tough. You have to be mentally in tune. You have to really love it, because it’s work,” she concludes.
Next: Do WNBA players have a choice going abroad or staying stateside?
Charles Hallman welcomes reader responses to [email protected].
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