Swanson: Did Las Vegas Aces discriminate against Dearica Hamby? She thinks so

I hope the Sparks throw Dearica Hamby a grand and glorious baby shower.

Really, I hope L.A. does.

Hamby is a dynamic 6-foot-3 forward. She ranked No. 21 in ESPN’s ranking of WNBA players going into last season, when she was a key piece of the Las Vegas Aces completing their first championship puzzle.

She’s 29. A two-time All-Star. Two-time Sixth Woman of the Year. Soon-to-be mother of two.

And, as of Saturday morning, a member of the Sparks.

They scored big by acquiring Hamby in a trade with the Aces, who threw in a 2024 first-round pick in exchange for Amanda Zahui B., a backup center, and a 2024 second-rounder.

The lopsidedness of the deal made you wonder whether Hamby’s pregnancy figured into the Aces’ calculations.

The Instagram post she penned Saturday afternoon, alleging “unprofessional and unethical” treatment by her former employer, tells you she’s certain of it.

“Being traded is part of the business,” Hamby acknowledged.

“Being lied to, bullied, manipulated, and discriminated against is not,” she added, for the people in the back and the daughter on her lap.

Dearica Hamby has released a statement following today’s trade announcement via her Instagram.

(via @MylesEhrlich) pic.twitter.com/OH26LRLZmM

— WSLAM (@wslam) January 21, 2023

 

The Aces didn’t respond to an email seeking comment, and haven’t so far publicly sought to refute Hamby’s assertions or share their perspective.

Hamby’s most famous basketball play was her miracle shot in the 2019 WNBA playoffs, a divinely inexplicable game-winner in an elimination contest against the Chicago Sky: She stole a pass at midcourt and then hit a running, one-legged 38-footer – not at the buzzer, but with 7.6 seconds left. A legendary NO-NO-NO!-YES!-WHAT!?!

the aces just clinched a playoff spot last year dearica hamby hit one of the craziest playoff shots i’ve ever seen this was an elimination game too which makes everything here 75 percent crazier pic.twitter.com/FZRRUVDtn8

— Shea Serrano (@SheaSerrano) August 29, 2020

Hamby’s biggest miracle to date? Her daughter Amaya, who’s been a regular, adorable presence by her side since she was born in 2017, written about, photographed and featured prominently in the Aces’ social media marketing.

Leaving Las Vegas now via trade has Hamby feeling like her baby, who is due in March, would have been one miracle too many for the franchise she’d played for her entire eight-year WNBA career. That included loading up on those aforementioned accolades – and earning an invitation to join the 12-member U.S. women’s national team in World Cup qualifying – after Amaya’s arrival on Feb. 5, 2017.

That March, she’d been back in San Antonio (where the franchise was located before Las Vegas), played in the then-Stars’ first preseason tilt on April 29 and then didn’t miss a game all season.

And she plans to play this season, she’s said several times, writing Saturday that she’s been training with that purpose.

“Players elevate after they give birth, in my opinion,” Hamby told WSLAM last year. “A lot of that comes with maturity as well, but just the toughness that I play with, the hunger and the drive, the heart that I play with, I think it comes with giving birth.”

But, in her opinion, she and the Aces differed on that.

It’s important to note that Hamby signed an extension in June for a reported $169,000 in both 2023 and 2024, which is slightly less than the maximum the Aces could’ve paid her and likely less than what she could have earned as a free agent.

About that, she wrote: “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 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 asked if I planned my pregnancy. When I responded, ‘no,’ I was then told that I ‘was not taking precautions to not get pregnant…’ ”

And: “I was being traded because ‘I couldn’t be ready and we need bodies.’ ”

So there’s this thing called the Pregnancy Discrimination Act of 1978.

It prohibits – or is supposed to – discrimination on the basis of pregnancy, childbirth, or related medical conditions. What does pregnancy discrimination involve? Treating an individual unfavorably in any aspect of employment, including hiring, firing, pay, job assignments …

I suppose you could argue (if you don’t look at last season’s WNBA standings) that being traded isn’t a demotion. She’ll be paid in accordance with the contract she signed.

But the way Hamby heard it communicated to her, the move was a punitive response to her pregnancy. She indicates she was made to feel that, because she was pregnant, she wasn’t taking her workouts – her work – seriously.

And if a WNBA team – whose entire product is built on the talent and contributions of women – can’t figure out how to fairly treat its child-bearing employees, what hope is there for the rest of the workforce?

Athletes’ careers are short, and in those years, their jobs often are exceptionally physically demanding. So pregnant players are, in a sense, navigating an extreme version of the complicated calculus so many moms make.

But whether we’re trying to, say, break into a TV writers’ room or to earn a communitie’s buy-in as the principal at an elementary school, having a baby can serve as a setback, career-wise. Because every organization or company has its own version of a salary cap, and competition in the job market is hardly exclusive to sports.

Before 2020 in the WNBA, players earned only half their salary when they were out while pregnant, getting fully compensated only after the new collective bargaining agreement was enacted.

Only this season will the league allow teams to replace a player on maternity leave with an applicable minimum salary without it counting against the salary cap or them having to apply for a hardship roster spot – even though the pregnant player’s salary will continue to count.

And still, the stigma persists surrounding pregnancy. You know, that whole business of growing a human. Populating the planet. Literally, life!

The WNBPA issued a statement following Hamby’s post, saying it had “serious concerns” and asking for a comprehensive investigation to ensure that players’ rights under the league’s collective bargaining agreement, as well those under state and federal law, aren’t violated.

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The Sparks’ new general manager Karen Bryant offered a statement too: “We’ve had very open conversations with Dearica about her journey to becoming a mother again. … We are thrilled to have her part of our Sparks family and look forward to caring for her as she prepares for childbirth and a safe and healthy return to the court.”

I love this trade for the Sparks.

Hamby is good; mama has already proved that. What I hope is it shows us something about what type of organization the Sparks will be under Bryant and new coach Curt Miller. That they’ll understand the value of the women who make the whole enterprise go, and that they’ll support them accordingly.

That, even when they’re on the doorstep of championship contention, they’ll be an organization we can point to and say, yeah, they’re doing it right. And that, actually, is why they’re contending for a championship.

Imagine expressing your fears as a woman and being pregnant in this profession/world…. Then to be reassured that you were supported.. and your back was “had”…. only to then be used against you. Lmao

— Dearica Marie Hamby (@dearicamarie) January 15, 2023

Dearica Hamby: WNBA champion (and also she’s pregnant!)

(via KTNV) pic.twitter.com/SvPkv5OZiy

— Dime (@DimeUPROXX) September 21, 2022

Countless memories

Thank you, Big Guard.@dearicamarie pic.twitter.com/boRDSgqF17

— Las Vegas Aces (@LVAces) January 21, 2023

8 seasons, back-to-back 6th Woman of the Year Awards, 2 All-Stars, a Commissioner’s Cup Championship, and our first @WNBA Title.

Thank you, @dearicamarie. pic.twitter.com/U7u3yvOLmY

— Las Vegas Aces (@LVAces) January 21, 2023

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