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Mothers Face Tough Calls

Without child-care assistance, WNBA players search for support

September 16, 2004|Kelsie Smith | Times Staff Writer

Stacey Lovelace-Tolbert was like many first-time moms. She wanted to do what was best for her baby.

So when she had her daughter, Ryann, in August 2003, she decided to breastfeed for a year.

But her plans changed when she was called to training camp with the WNBA's Minnesota Lynx this spring.

With her husband playing basketball overseas, Lovelace-Tolbert brought her mom to camp to help with Ryann.

Not even two weeks later, though, Lovelace-Tolbert found herself shopping for formula. Her mom had to go home and back to work. All out of options, Lovelace-Tolbert had to send 9-month-old Ryann on a plane with her.

"I wish there was something to where I would have been able to keep her in Minnesota with me," she said.

But there wasn't. The league, which will finish its eighth regular season on Sunday, doesn't provide child-care for its 13 mothers.

League spokesman John Maxwell says the WNBA encourages teams to help players with children. But encouragement doesn't often lead to results.

Michael Messner, chair of sociology at USC, said not having child-care available was a double standard. Society, he said, tends to assume that women should be responsible for taking care of children, even if they are the primary breadwinner in the family.

"If we're going to put that on her, we should provide her with help and probably higher pay," he said. "But given the nature of the WNBA, it doesn't sound like that will happen anytime soon."

Maxwell agreed, and said a league-wide policy regarding child-care won't even be an option until the WNBA's collective-bargaining agreement expires three years from now.

"Even if we could get an option, because right now there is not an option," Lovelace-Tolbert said. "It's like either your family helps you or that's it ... you can't play. Somebody has to take care of the baby."

Or babies in Helen Darling's case.

She is the mother of three -- as in triplets. The Minnesota guard is in her first season with the Lynx. Last year Darling played for Cleveland, where her sons, Ja-Juan and Jalen, and her daughter Nevaeh, are living with their father.

Darling said the Rockers were more accommodating to mothers than the Lynx. In Cleveland the team had a family room where children could be dropped off and looked after during games. Even something as small as that, she said, made a difference.

The most help Darling said she has received with child-care was while playing for the National Women's Basketball League during the WNBA's off-season. There, her team's owner hired two nannies for players with children. One nanny traveled with the team; one stayed home with Darling's triplets. Knowing child-care was taken care of, she said, made her busy days less stressful. She said she hoped the WNBA someday would match her experience in the NWBL.

But Olympia Scott-Richardson isn't hopeful. The Charlotte Sting center, a single mother, said it was simply not a priority.

"If we could change it, yeah that would be great," she said. "But

Scott-Richardson isn't as fortunate as Lovelace-Tolbert and Darling, who have family able to help during a season full of flights and hotel stays. She lives across the country from her California-based family.

This was her first season in Charlotte and, luckily for her, she said, the team referred her to a nanny she could trust. When Scott-Richardson has to travel, her daughter, BreAzia, stays at the nanny's house.

Taking the 4-year-old with her is not an option. Hiring someone to watch BreAzia during practices and games means Scott-Richardson would have to buy two more tickets for each trip. And that is just too expensive, she said.

For mothers in the WNBA, it always seems to come back to that -- money. The maximum salary for a veteran-status player -- one in her fourth year with the league -- is $87,000 a year. The veteran's minimum is $43,680. Rookies sign a three-year contract that increases 2% in the second year and an additional 2% in the third. The rookie maximum in the first year is $40,800; the minimum is $30,600.

When supporting multiple children, that money doesn't seem to go very far, Darling said.

"I went from a two-person household to a five-person household," Darling said. "You think about food; you think about bills; you think about diapers -- all the things that the baby needs. And then you talk about child-care. It's very expensive, and I feel like sometimes the money that I'm making, I'm not seeing it."

To supplement, many women play overseas or in other leagues, such as the NWBL, during the off-season. Financial strain, coupled with the physical toll having a child takes on an athlete's body, might explain why the majority of the WNBA's 143 active players are not mothers.

Scott-Richardson said most of the women in the league want to have children, but it's a post-career plan.

It hasn't been easy for Lovelace-Tolbert. She sometimes doesn't see Ryann for weeks.

For a young mother who just missed her baby's first steps and first tooth, that's far too long.

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(BEGIN TEXT OF INFOBOX)

Basketball Moms

WNBA players with children:

* Teana McKiver Miller, Charlotte Sting

* Helen Darling, Minnesota Lynx

* Taj McWilliams-Franklin, Connecticut Sun

* Jessie Hicks, San Antonio Silver Stars

* Astou Ndiaye-Diatta, Indiana Fever

* Sheryl Swoopes, Houston Comets

* Niele Ivey, Indiana Fever

* Natalie Williams, Indiana Fever

* Edna Campbell, Sacramento Monarchs

* Yolanda Griffith, Sacramento Monarchs

* Jae Cross, Phoenix Mercury

* Stacey Lovelace-Tolbert, Minnesota Lynx

* Olympia Scott-Richardson, Charlotte Sting

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