Sue Bird: WNBA players 'shouldn't be worrying about [their] job' when they get pregnant

There is a progression to everything and anything. Take, for example, a classic moment from “Jersey Shore” in which Mike “The Situation” Sorrentino explains his philosophy on dressing to go out. There is a “shirt before the shirt.” It’s a tank before changing into the better-looking T-shirt that often resembled Ed Hardy apparel. The 2010s were wild.

Retired four-time WNBA champion Sue Bird swears she’s going somewhere with this comparison she’s dropped to a question having what seems like nothing to do with the hit reality series and its stars. There has to be a way this connects to the issue of maternity protections in the WNBA’s collective bargaining agreement she helped broker ahead of the 2020 season.

“I would always joke, this was the CBA before the CBA,” Bird told Yahoo Sports as part of her partnership with Corona. “What the CBA really was and what you learn when you start those negotiations [is] sadly you can only do so much in one CBA. And what made this CBA different from any other was we got a lot done, but it was really more of a reset. It was more of a foundational CBA.”

The current CBA feels as ancient as the show itself and how Sorrentino describes his tank. When it was announced in January 2020, the CBA was groundbreaking and set in motion a new era of the WNBA that gave players more leverage and agency over their careers. One of the key articles was maternity protections that guarantees fully paid maternity leave, child care stipends, larger housing and overall support for mothers.

Those aspects have come to the forefront after Dearica Hamby was traded from the championship Las Vegas Aces to the Los Angeles Sparks while pregnant with her second child. Hamby said she was “lied to, bullied, manipulated and discriminated against” by Aces personnel about her pregnancy that went beyond business. Aces head coach Becky Hammon was suspended two games by the WNBA for violating “Respect in the Workplace” policies and has denied the allegations, insisting the trade was “nothing personal” and everything with Hamby was “on the up and up” in their relationship.

Los Angeles Sparks forward Dearica Hamby drives to the basket while being guarded by Phoenix Mercury forward Michaela Onyenwere during a game May 19, 2023, in Los Angeles. (AP Photo/Jeff Lewis, File)

It has ripped open larger conversations around maternity protections and supporting mothers while a handful of other players are also recently back from childbirth or taking leave. Bird, who was a WNBA Players Association vice president, said she knew the CBA the players agreed to wasn’t perfect, but “it laid a foundation for what could be an even better CBA.”

“What it’s shown — whether you’re talking about salary, travel, all of the different elements, but particularly maternity leave — it’s just showing where the crack [or] where the weak link is in the chain,” Bird said. “And obviously we wanted 100% maternity leave. Players who get pregnant deserve that. They need the freedom of that. It shouldn’t be a stressful thing. You shouldn’t be worrying about your job just because you’re starting your family.”

Players are able to take a full maternity leave with pay, which had not been offered in the past, and can return at their own pace. Mercury star Skylar Diggins-Smith is currently away from the team after the birth of her second child, and Sky forward Ruthy Hebard is slowly working her way back physically in practices with her son and partner traveling with her. Napheesa Collier returned from the birth of her first child last summer and her Lynx teammate Natalie Achonwa remains away from the team after the birth of her first in the offseason.

The league investigated the incident in Las Vegas, but said it will not release details on what exactly the independent investigation found or what Hammon said. The second-year coach said her misstep was asking Hamby about her pregnancy. Another issue from a team side is that those salaries count against the cap and though they can sign a player to fill the roster spot, it’s at the veteran minimum and done once the season is underway.

Retired WNBA superstar Sue Bird is acknowledged during a game between the Seattle Storm and the Phoenix Mercury at Climate Pledge Arena in Seattle on May 20, 2023. (Steph Chambers/Getty Images)

“Obviously, we’ve seen it’s put this, I was going to say pressure, I don’t even know if that’s the right word, [but] it’s made teams almost like, pissy, that they have to spend their money on the player and they don’t get their money back on their cap,” Bird said. “Which A, you’ll be fine. In a year you’ll be fine. But B, maybe there is something that works for both sides. And that’s what this CBA is showing, that maybe there is something that works well for both sides.”

Bird won’t be a part of those next negotiations as she enjoys retirement in her “Finer Recliner,” a special edition Adirondack style chair by Corona that features signature upgrades for the superstar. The CBA before the CBA runs through the 2027 season and active players can exercise the opt out after the 2025 season with the intent to slip into a better looking one that fits nicer.

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