In 1998, professional female basketball players decided to unionize to strengthen their collective voices.

“A legacy of the women who started the union is that future players get the opportunity to play at the highest level and use this platform responsibly to go one step further to support social causes,” says Terri Jackson, director of operations for the Women’s National Basketball Players Association (WNBPA).

Union formation

The union originated by way of old-fashioned grassroots union organizing. A core group of informed and engaged players led the charge, alongside a pair of veterans with law degrees, Sonja Henning and Coquese Washington — all motivated by the lack of benefits and the league’s seemingly limitless disciplinary authority.

Many immediately recognized the need for collective action and, thanks to coordinated efforts with the NBPA, organizing was a success.

Next level

“A legacy of the women who started the union is that future players get the opportunity to play at the highest level and use this platform responsibly to go one step further to support social causes.”

Almost 20 years later, the WNBPA helps players to become advocates for themselves and others. Their stand on social issues as an entire league of players draws inspiration from pioneers like Ann Meyers Drysdale and Billie Jean King, and modern efforts of Megan Rapinoe and Ibitihaj Muhammad.

“Representing the player membership allows us to contribute to more than just the game,” says WNBPA president Nnemkadi Ogwumike and first vice president Layshia Clarendon.

“This is [the players’] union, and we can use this platform to further our collective interests,” says vice president Monique Currie. Fellow vice president Chiney Ogwumike adds: “From Muhammed Ali to Jackie Robinson, athletes have been at the forefront of social change. [We] seek to help carry this torch.”

But it’s secretary-treasurer Monica Wright who best typifies the privilege newer or future players have: “Get involved and take ownership of a vehicle that can help us all achieve greatness on and off the court.”