You think you have trouble balancing life and work? Imagine being a professional athlete, caring for a family on the one hand and keeping up with the demands of your sport on the other. And unlike the life of a male pro, where tons of money and adoring fans offset any struggle they might face, female athletes deal with lower pay, frequent travel, and often, the lack of a supportive spouse tending the home fires.
WNBA players earn as little as $15,000 for the season, and even the league's biggest stars max out at $105,000. League minimum for an NBA player? $473,604, and that's for a rookie. Most of the big money is made overseas, but that season runs during the school year.
This story profiles the difficulties of mothers in the WNBA, the women's professional basketball league: Centering around the story of New York Liberty star Taj McWilliams-Franklin, it calls her career "a triumph of motherhood over matter." She has three daughters: one born while she was in college that she raised on her own, one she placed for adoption, and one who was born during her WNBA career.
The years a woman is building her basketball career dovetail exactly with the prime childbearing years; a woman's basketball prowess and fertility both start to decline in her mid-30s. Because of that, it's not uncommon for players to sit a year because of pregnancy, and in the process lose lucrative sponsorships. That happened to McWilliams-Franklin, but better-known players often dodge that bullet.
The world hasn't caught up with the evolution of female athletes. Finally, it's possible for talented women to make a career on the court after college, but the sports world is similar to the business world in that it's just not built to accommodate someone who is raising children. Some leagues do a little better; the LPGA Tour (women's pro golf) pays for on-site child care at its Stateside events. No such thing exists in the WNBA.
Unsurprisingly, overseas teams are much more accommodating for women. Players can and do negotiate contract clauses that pay for a nanny to travel with a player and her children, and they pay much better, often twice the WNBA maximum.
Watching them on the court, you don't necessarily think these athletes are mothers just like us, worrying about playground bullies and science fair projects. But this just goes to show that the challenges and rewards of being a working mom are the same whether you're wearing a power suit or a jersey.
Image via sagriffin305/Flickr