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WNBA Champion Dearica Hamby’s Pregnancy Discrimination Claims Tarnish League’s Progressive Image

Las Vegas Aces forward Dearica Hamby looks for a pass in a game against the Minnesota Lynx

The Women’s National Basketball Association’s (WNBA) major offseason negotiation period has been underway since January 11th. Major award winners have already been dealt to new teams hoping to climb the standings. One of these transactions has already had repercussions off the court after the star player involved accused her former team of pregnancy discrimination.

On Saturday, the reigning WNBA champion Las Vegas Aces announced their trade of two-time Sixth Player of the Year Dearica Hamby to the Los Angeles Sparks for the rights to Amanda Zahui B. and a first-round draft pick.

Hamby had been part of the franchise for her entire career. She became a major contributor and  fan favorite after the team’s move to Las Vegas, authoring one of the team’s most significant playoff moments before the 2022 championship season – the “Hamby Heave.”

The Aces have become one of the WNBA’s most popular teams over the last five years, and Hamby was a Vegas mainstay. The two-time All-Star’s public interactions with her daughter Amaya (born in February 2017, at the beginning of Hamby’s WNBA career) were frequently posted and promoted  on social media by the Aces and the WNBA.

During the Aces’ 2022 championship celebration in September, Hamby announced she was expecting the birth of another child.

According to Hamby, the announcement soured her long-standing relationship with the Aces and was the motivation for the trade. In a detailed statement posted to her Instagram account, she accused the team of “unprofessional and unethical” treatment that “has been traumatizing.”

From Hamby’s statement:

I have had my character and work ethic attacked. I was promised things to entice me to sign my contract extension that were not followed through on. I was accused of signing my extension knowingly pregnant. This is false. I was told that I was “a question mark” and that it was said that I said I would “get pregnant again” and there was a concern for my level of commitment to the team. I was told that “I didn’t hold up my end of the bargain” (Because “no one expected me to get pregnant in the next two years”). … I was being traded because “I wouldn’t be ready and we need bodies”. I planned to play this season, and I have expressed my desire to play this season. I have pushed myself throughout my entire pregnancy and have continued to work out (basketball included) on my own and with team staff – even on days where it was uncomfortable to walk, only to be inaccurately told that “I was not taking my workouts seriously.” … I remained transparent with everyone in the organization, and yet, my honesty was met with coldness, disrespect, and disregard from members of management. … The unprofessional and unethical way that I have been treated has been traumatizing. To be treated this way by an organization, BY WOMEN who are mothers, who have claimed to “be in these shoes” who preach family, chemistry and women’s empowerment is disappointing and leaves me sick to my stomach.

These allegations are serious, as the choice to decide when or if to bear children is a fundamental human right that should be supported by the league’s professed progressive values.

Copies of Hamby’s statement have circulated on Twitter, garnering much more attention than the initial trade announcement.

The allegations come on the heels of a Player’s Tribune post from professional soccer player Sara Björk Gunnarsdóttir about her fight against her former club, Olympique Lyonnais, to receive pay withheld during her pregnancy. Like Hamby, Gunnarsdóttir ended up moving to a different organization.

Coverage about the WNBA’s environment for parents has been positive since 2020, when the WNBA Players’ Union negotiated a new collective bargaining agreement that provided additional parenting and family planning benefits.

In her statement, Hamby noted that “[w]e fought for provisions that would finally support and protect player parents. This cannot now be used against me.”

The Players’ Union announced in a statement of its own that it plans to “review this matter” and that it “will seek a comprehensive investigation to ensure that her [Hamby’s] rights under the collectively bargained provisions of the 2020 CBA, as well as her rights and protections under state and federal law, have not been violated.”

The WNBA has benefitted from a progressive reputation, especially since the 2020 bubble season. When Atlanta Dream owner Kelly Loeffler wrote an open letter to WNBA Commissioner Cathy Engelbert complaining about the league’s support of Black Lives Matter protests during Loeffler’s 2020 U.S. Senate campaign, players successfully boosted Loeffler’s opponent Raphael Warnock, leading to Loeffler’s ouster from Washington and, eventually, the WNBA.

Hamby and her daughter’s images have been used by the Aces and the league to promote the WNBA’s image as a progressive and supportive workplace, making the situation even more distasteful.

Gunnarsdóttir noted that while it’s “undeniable” that the game has made significant progress, “[t]here’s a lot more to do” regarding the culture in women’s soccer. The same applies to the WNBA. As North America’s longest-tenured women’s professional sports league and the most prestigious women’s professional basketball league, the WNBA is a standard-bearer for women’s sports. Hamby’s allegations have the potential to seriously damage the Aces’ and league’s standing with fans as it seeks to expand beyond twelve teams. Its response will show whether the league is committed to setting the bar for other sports leagues as a progressive work environment.

Featured Image: Las Vegas Aces forward Dearica Hamby looks for a pass in a game against the Minnesota Lynx by Lorie Shaull on July 21, 2019, CC BY-SA 4.0, via Wikimedia Commons.

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