Nneka Ogwumike on WNBA misconceptions and salary transparency

As president of the WNBA players union, Los Angeles Sparks forward Nneka Ogwumike is a forward-facing figure for the future of women's professional basketball.

The current CBA between the WNBPA and league expires on Oct. 31. Ogwumike, the 2012 No. 1 overall draft pick, embraces the challenge but also knows that a lot of what she's fighting for might not be achieved in her career.

"I know that some of what I'm doing is for the next generation," she said. "And that's OK."

In a wide-ranging interview with ESPN at the espnW Women + Sports Summit, Ogwumike discusses CBA negotiations, setting examples for other women's sports leagues (namely hockey), when she hopes WNBA players won't have to play in second leagues overseas and why she hopes to level the playing field when it comes to offseason resources.

On what she hopes can be achieved in the upcoming CBA ...

"Specifically, and generally speaking, investment -- whether that is investment of resources, investment in the players, investment in the organization and the business. I think that's what we're looking for. As a player, investment translates as salary compensation. Investment in the business does translate as having more direction with the social media aspect of things, having more direction garnering fandom and also understanding the standardization that needs to occur across the league from team to team. That's what I see now. We need not just audible investment. We need actual physical, financial investment to be seen into the sport."

On an ideal revenue split between the league and WNBA players ...

"For us to be able to be closer to 50/50, I think that's ideal for any sport, and ultimately, though, I think revenue sharing comes hand-in-hand with revenue in general. To generate more revenue, we have to adjust the business accordingly. Salary compensation, as it occurs to the players in whatever way we can is really a priority not to just sustain the league but to show the investment that shows that the athletes are cared for and women in sports is a priority for everyone."

On a potential work stoppage ...

"It's not something we're thinking about at all. I know that's what comes to people minds that are not inside negotiations, but strike, lockout, that's nothing of any concern for us because that's not our goal. That's not something we're looking forward to. That's not on our radar."

On the WNBAPA negotiations setting a precedent for other women's sports ...

"It humbles me in a way that shows that we're setting the example for a lot of these leagues. It's really interesting to see some of the hockey players come up to me and say, 'Hey, that's what we want, and we're fighting for more than what we have.' I don't want it to diminish anyone's fight in any way. I think it just shows that we're all at different stages in this fight, and we can do whatever we can at our different stages to help each other."

On the importance of the NBA and women's startup leagues thriving when they are attached to existing men's professional leagues ...

"Without the NBA, we wouldn't be here. I think that it is true: We do need the support of men's leagues, to be honest. I was talking with Kendall [Coyne Schofield], and she was saying, we just need the NHL to buy in. Quite frankly, that's a big reason why we're successful: because we have a brother league that helped get us started and helped sustain us. I think that maybe complacency with initial success has kind of slowed things down, progressively, for us. I think that as the game grows, we have to grow the business. We find ourselves in a moment where we can't continue to do the same old thing. That same old thing may work to get a league started as the women in hockey are looking to do. But to sustain it, you have to invest in it as much as you have in the men's league."

On WNBA players having to go overseas during the offseason to maximize their value ...

"Our goal is to not have to need that. At least, to not make going overseas a priority. Ultimately, we have the best players in the world playing in both leagues, and when you're doing that over time, it wears on the body, and now you have to think about rest, you have to think about where the money is at. I don't want us to get to a point where people are forgoing playing in the WNBA because it is the best league in the world, and it's important for us to understand that we can get to a point where that is the only league we're playing in. That's what everyone wants. But we have to put the investment in for that to happen."

On when the WNBA will get to the point that players don't have to play in a second league ...

"It would be cool if I was still playing and we got there. But I know that anything that I do now is for the future, whether I'm still playing or not. I just want it to happen in the near future, relatively. So I can't tell you when, but I can tell you that we're working toward it."

On salary transparency ...

"Salary transparency is vital. Because you can't negotiate your worth if you don't know what it is. You know what it's not, and that's what you're getting, but you have to be able to negotiate your worth and know where that meter is. When it comes to player-to-player transparency, that's an individual choice. As far as transparency of -- in our case -- what we're making here opposed to what we're making overseas, I don't see why that is an issue. I know a lot of people might argue with me because I might be on the higher end of that spectrum, but ultimately, it doesn't really matter where you are. You're probably making more over there than you are over here, regardless of what type of player that you are. So I think that it's important to have that framework out to a degree to have people understand exactly why we're fighting the fight."

On if she has had expanded marketing opportunities since breaking into the league ...

"I can't say that I have seen it grow. The only thing that I can say, from my own experience, is the opportunities that I've gotten from the shoe deals that I've had, and you can kind of see the progression for how they market us, shows the growth of what they perceive as our value. When I switched over to Adidas, it was very apparent we were treated almost equally, if not equally to the men -- not from a compensation standpoint but from a day-to-day operational standpoint. That's the difference that I've seen. There's nothing that sticks out in my mind to say that I've seen much else improve for the entire group of women. I think that's another problem. We're not really targeting who aligns with us to be able to put the investments in to progress the league."

On misconceptions about the WNBA that she hates ...

"You know, I don't really hate any misconceptions because I know that they're not true. But really, the biggest is that nobody watches us. Because that's not true. People watch us. The people that aren't watching us or saying they're not watching, it's just ignorance. To be honest, I think they're afraid to like us."

On an under-reported aspect of CBA negotiations: leveling the playing field as it pertains to all teams providing offseason training opportunities for players ...

"We still have resources available to us that allow us to not have to be total self-starters when it comes to our training. However, we're also trying to understand the parameters by which certain teams have resources to give their players that offseason training resources they require to stay in shape and not have to go overseas. That's also something we're trying to work on because some teams do it, and some teams don't. Whether it's a facility, trainers, therapy, that ties into whether you have a player that's on a team marketing agreement in the offseason, and they're not going overseas. Those are the resources that you have to provide so when they're ready to come back, they're ready to go. All the stuff you'd be missing if you didn't play on an overseas team -- or, quite frankly, if you weren't in season. That's what happens with the men.

"I think that can be achieved in the new CBA. That's really major because once you finish playing, it's like, 'OK, what am I doing now? How am I lifting? Who is putting me through basketball workouts? Is there therapy available? Treatment?' A lot of times you have to negotiate those in the offseason and whatever agreements you have with your team in exchange for doing offseason marketing appearances or such. So to be able to standardize that across the league, so that players know that's available, that's an important thing to me."
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