In 2016, W.N.B.A. players were among the first professional athletes to protest in solidarity with the Black Lives Matter movement, drawing fines from the league that were later rescinded. Ogwumike said that Engelbert, who was not with the W.N.B.A. at the time, had acknowledged the league had initially handled those protests poorly, helping to ease players’ current concerns on that front.
This season will be the W.N.B.A.’s first since the league and union signed a new collective bargaining agreement in January, which drastically increased pay for players and guaranteed individual hotel rooms, instead of shared rooms, for players on the road. Jackson said players would have the same rights at the academy in Florida, with the option of larger villas for players with families and caregivers.
The W.N.B.A.’s statement on Monday said that the league was “working with medical specialists, public health experts, and government officials” on medical protocols and protections to keep players and staff safe amid the continuing coronavirus pandemic. Because of the “fluid situation” caused by the virus, the statement said, the league was still reviewing and tweaking its plans.
Ogwumike said that as negotiations began, she was anxious about the health risks of playing a season during the pandemic, but that she had become more comfortable with the idea.
“As I tried to realize what the season would look like, I’ve got to tell you, I wasn’t encouraged in the beginning,” Ogwumike said. “But as we started having these negotiations, I became more and more comfortable.”
She added that she felt the level of risk of living at the academy would be comparable to what she had experienced living at home.
Engelbert offered her own personal endorsement, saying that safety concerns wouldn’t be the thing that kept her from playing, if she were able.
“One hundred percent I would play — if I wasn’t 55 years old,” she said, laughing. “I’d suit up tomorrow.”