A Conversation with Chiney Ogwumike and Cathy Engelbert

In front of fans and media, Los Angeles Sparks forward Chiney Ogwumike and WNBA commissioner Cathy Engelbert described the inspiration behind the new Collective Bargaining Agreement (CBA) Feb. 25 at Bob Hope Patriotic Hall.

“It feels like we won a championship,” C. Ogwumike said.

This collaborative effort between the WNBA and the Women’s National Basketball Players Association (WNBPA) was put into place just over a month ago. C. Ogwumike and her sister both played leading roles in the actualization of the CBA, with Chiney Ogwumike as a WNBPA Vice President, and her sister and Los Angeles Sparks forward, Nneka Ogwumike, as the WNBPA President.

C. Ogwumike said the CBA was truly a collaborative effort between the all of the big names in the WNBA, in fact, she said many of the new terms stem from player situations.

“All the revolutionary ideas in the CBA happened in a WhatsApp [group text],” C. Ogwumike said. “Every single thing in the CBA has a personal anecdote. The CBA reflects real stories and real struggles.”

C. Ogwumike explained that this 8-year agreement was 18 months in the making. She said Engelbert, along with the remaining members of the WNBPA, was passionate about getting the agreement finalized.

“Forget the politics, we were all striving for the same thing,” C. Ogwumike said. “For the commissioner to be fighting on our behalf, that’s never happened before.”

The moments leading up to the CBA announcement, C. Ogwumike was met with anxiety, fearing the public’s reaction.

Following the announcement on Good Morning America, overwhelming positive responses from players, the sports world and media outlets began pouring in. C. Ogwumike argues this agreement should not be recognized as ground breaking, but rather establishing, with ideas many women resonate with.

“For women to have an opportunity to get paid on maternity leave, why is that something novel? Every woman in this country and around the world can identify with that,” C. Ogwumike said. “Women should be invested in.”

C. Ogwumike insisted the CBA was only possible because of Engelbert’s role as the first ever WNBA commissioner.

“We have a commissioner that has the experience of leading people past society’s perceptions,” C. Ogwumike said.

C. Ogwumike furthers her praise for all of Engelbert’s efforts. C. Ogwumike says Engelbert shared the importance of C. Ogwumike’s favorite portion of the CBA: the family planning benefits.

“I don’t know if anyone other than [Engelbert] would understand that and push that through,” C. Ogwumike said. “Because we have that joint love for basketball and being female, that’s what made this establishing. It’s what women deserve.”

Engelbert reciprocated the appreciation.

“This is so important to have a role model like Chiney on television so that young girls can see and be her one day,” Engelbert said. “You can’t be what you can’t see”.

Engelbert reminded the audience of the hard truth: women’s sports in the U.S. receive just 4% of sports media coverage and 1% of sponsorship dollars. However, she said the players aren’t to blame. In fact, she said WNBA players are in their prime in terms of both athleticism and play.

“The state of the game on the court has never been better,” Engelbert said. “It’s the ecosystem around women’s sports that is broken.”

Engelbert kept this ecosystem in mind when negotiating the agreement, in hopes to improve its current state.

Tuesday’s event came just one day after the celebration of life for Kobe and Gianna Bryant at the Staples Center. Ogwumike was in attendance, along with Pheonix Mercury guard Diana Taurasi and Oregon women’s basketball star Sabrina Ionescu, who both shared personal stories at the memorial.

Ogwumike praised Bryant for his consistent support of women’s basketball, and hopes to see more men championing for women’s sports in the future.

“After the Kobe memorial, I don’t know how you don’t walk away and see Vanessa was intentional in having the female athletes speak first,” Ogwumike said.