As pro sports get back underway, players have to make some difficult decisions. The largest one? Risk physical and mental health and social injustices to play in a shortened season, or sit out and forego some or all of their salary.
For WNBA players, the Brooklyn Nets’ Kyrie Irving is helping make that choice a little easier.
Along with WNBA athletes Natasha Cloud and Jewell Loyd, Irving launched the KAI Empowerment Initiative, a $1.5 million fund that will supplement the income of players who choose not to play this season. The fund will support players whether they sit out due to coronavirus or social justice concerns.
Irving, Cloud, and Loyd connected with several players to hear their challenges. The season, which tipped off on July 25, will be played at the IMG Academy in Bradenton, Florida.
“Whether a person decided to fight for social justice, play basketball, focus on physical or mental health, or simply connect with their families, this initiative can hopefully support their priorities and decisions,” Irving said in a statement.
WNBA salaries are far lower than their NBA counterparts. DeWanna Bonner, last season’s highest earner, made $127,000. By contrast, Stephen Curry’s 2019-20 salary is $40.2 million.
Players do have to provide insight into their reasons for sitting out, though. They can’t be receiving additional salary support and any medical absence must be related to the Covid-19 pandemic. Athletes will learn by August 14 whether they’ll receive financial support.
Irving is not with the Nets for the NBA’s restart because of shoulder surgery. However, he’s continued to be a vocal support of social reform, including a recent TV special calling for action in the death of Breonna Taylor.
There’s still lots of uncertainty around the return of sports, to be sure. Hopefully this fund will help provide a bit of clarity for some of the WNBA’s athletes.