Packer Trainer Goes Pro
While most of the faculty and students of Packer were getting ready for summer break, Head Athletic Trainer Michael Cunningham was getting ready for something more exciting: working for the WNBA. Mike started his role as the assistant athletic trainer and head strength coach for the New York Liberty, which has long been an essential part of the WNBA and has appeared in four championships.
As a member of the training staff, Mike developed relationships with many players, including 2010 number one overall draft pick Tina Charles, whom he described as “one of the nicest women I have ever met.” Mike also explained that “once [many people] get to the top, [they] stop working, but these girls go even further.” Soccer player, Rafe Abdulali (‘22) said that Mike is: “one of the most encouraging people I have met”.
As one might assume, Mike was impressed with the players on the team. “There was one girl, Han Xu, who was so brave,” he said. “She is only 19 and she was learning English without her family and playing a sport she had just learned.” He also noticed how the players could switch between being “funny and light-hearted while also being laser-focused when it was game time.” Mike had something positive to say about each of the players and was effusive while reflecting on his experience working for The Liberty.
Unlike most other professional sports leagues, many WNBA players have to go overseas to play in the offseason. Mike explained how “the WNBA is nice because it gives the players publicity, but they don’t get paid nearly enough.” To combat the lower pay, many players compete in Europe during the offseason in an attempt to make a reasonable amount of money. There is a significant difference in pay between WNBA players and NBA players, with the WNBA’s average salary being $116,000 and the NBA’s being $6,388,007. When asked about the difference in pay, Mike said,“It’s a shame. These women have worked just as hard as the men and do not get the recognition that they deserved. This upcoming year will be pretty influential. The Brooklyn Nets owner [billionaire Joe Tsai] recently bought The Liberty and have brought them to Brooklyn. Which gives them brand new opportunities.” When Mike attended the preview game at the Barclays Center last year, he noted the positive energy and high attendance. He hopes that the new owner will help the players gain more of a following.
Mike mentioned that he is “loving working with a private school and a professional team. I’m learning so much.” He said how he can apply the practices he has learned with the Liberty to help improve Packer students’ athletic performances. Rafe said that Mike is: “very experienced and extremely kind and caring when it comes to students”.