Examining Controversial Trades in the NWSL and WNBA

Should both leagues introduce no-trade clauses?

By Elisha Gunaratnam

Abby Erceg, formerly of the NC Courage, goes up against Racing Louisville last season. (AP Photo/Gerry Broome)

After North Carolina traded Diana Ordóñez to the Houston Dash on January 12, Abby Erceg tweeted “Yup, it’s official. We still suck at trades in 2023.” On February 23, while she was home in New Zealand, Erceg found herself on the trading block when the Courage announced that they were trading Erceg and Carson Pickett to Racing Louisville. She was caught completely off guard by the move. “I think when you spend that long at a club and you don’t get a chance to have the conversation about what your future looks like, it’s tough when you find out that kind of news.”

During an introductory press conference on February 1, Erceg told the press that her first reaction to finding out about her and Pickett’s trade was just to cry. She said that she was heartbroken and “disappointed” by the club’s decision. But, given that she was still in New Zealand and only had a matter of days to pack up her life in North Carolina, Erceg had to go “straight into logistics mode.” She and Pickett needed to figure out where they were going to live, and they had to adjust to a quick preseason schedule change. “You don’t want to be the player that turns up late.”

Thankfully, Racing Louisville tried to ease some of the logistical challenges of the trade by sending the duo a presentation of “everything they could possibly need.” Erceg and Pickett said that it was only after they received the presentation and found housing options that they could begin to feel excited about the new chapter of their careers with Louisville.

Erceg and Pickett weren’t the only players in the NWSL who were blindsided by a trade during the off-season. Perhaps rather ironically, Lynn Williams also found out that her club had traded her while she was training in New Zealand. “It was a shock. It wasn’t on my radar. I’m in New Zealand at my first camp, and it just kind of threw me for a second.”

A few weeks later, Williams told the media that she heard about the possibility of being traded just two hours before it was announced. She later found out the trade went through in real-time along with the public. Like Erceg and Pickett, Williams had to quickly pack up her apartment in Kansas City, and find a place to live in New York/New Jersey before Gotham FC kicked off their preseason. 

The NWSL Isn’t the Only League With This Problem

While the WNBA off-season has been filled with excitement, it has also had its fair share of controversy. On June 29, 2022, Dearica Hamby signed a two-year contract extension with the Las Vegas Aces. Hamby took a pay cut to remain with the organization, and spoke about how her daughter, Amaya, influenced her decision because of how much she loved where they were living. According to a statement posted on her Instagram, the Aces also promised Hamby things to “entice” her to stay with the team. At the time that Hamby signed the extension, Las Vegas Aces General Manager Natalie Williams spoke about how excited they were to have her sign the extension.  “We are very happy to re-sign two-time Sixth Player of the Year and two-time All-Star Dearica Hamby to a multi-year contract extension,” said Williams. “She has been a key piece of our core group for several years now, and her energy and hustle will be invaluable to our future success.”

Six months later, Hamby found out that she was being traded to the Los Angeles Sparks. Hamby claims that the Aces accused her of signing with the team while knowing that she was pregnant for a second time, and that they questioned her commitment to basketball before ultimately deciding to trade her. The trade is now being investigated by the WNBA.

“I’m processing it, dealing with the waves of the emotions, but kind of putting my son first and trying to remind myself that I have to stay healthy and not be too stressed out,” she said on a call with the media on February 1. “A couple of weeks ago, my blood pressure was through the roof. So just trying to remain calm for him. And just make sure he gets here, and then I’ll kind of deal with the aftermath and everything else after.”

“It’s kind of like if that can happen to me, that can happen to anybody. And I’m confident that people, the person, that said these things will be held accountable and that the league will do the right thing.”

Should the NWSL and WNBA Introduce “No-Trade” Clauses?

The MLB, MLS, NBA, and NHL all allow for players to insert a “no-trade” or a “no-movement” clause into their contracts. These clauses give players the right to refuse—or the requirement to approve—any trade in which they are set to be included.

All of the leagues have slightly different criteria for establishing which players are eligible to add one of these clauses to their contracts. For instance, in the NBA, a player is eligible for a no-trade clause in a new contract, a player must have eight years of NBA experience, and have spent at least part of at least four of those seasons with the team they are signing the new contract with. In contrast, in the NHL, a player is eligible to have either a no-trade or a no-movement clause included in their contract if they have played in seven seasons or are over the age of 27, whichever is the first to occur. 

The NWSL and WNBA’s collective bargaining agreements make no mention of no-trade clauses. As a result, players in these leagues have no control over whether or not a team trades them. Regardless of if they’ve been with a team for two years or for 15 years, if a team decides to move on from them, the players cannot refuse the trade. They are required by their contracts to pick up their lives (and sometimes the lives of their families as well),and move to new cities at the drop of a hat. Players like Abby Erceg, Carson Pickett, Lynn Williams, and Dearica Hamby know exactly what this feels like. 

While the latest CBAs for the NWSL and WNBA have provided players with significantly more protection than they had in years prior, it might be time for the players associations in both leagues to negotiate for the inclusion of no-trade clauses when they are working out their next collective bargaining agreements. Sports are businesses, but league executives cannot forget that, in a very real sense, they hold the lives of real people in their hands. The continued success and growth of the league is dependent on the well-being of its players, and as of now, that well-being doesn’t seem to be the priority it ought to be.

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