Womens activist puts WNBA blame on Blazers

Martha Burk's protest at Masters grabbed ink; now it's basketball

Women's rights activist Martha Burk, fresh off protesting at The Masters, has set her sights on the WNBA and its labor negotiations. And she has some harsh words for Portland Trail Blazers owner Paul Allen.

Allen opted not to pick up an option to purchase the Portland Fire from the WNBA last December. Then his representatives with the Trail Blazers turned down an offer from prospective buyers Clyde Drexler, the former Blazer great, and Terry Emmert, a local businessman and Fire season-ticket holder.

Drexler and Emmert offered $1 million, but the Blazers wanted to recoup losses suffered in the three-year run of the Fire and asked for $5 million. Ultimately, Allen chose to fold the team.

'He got nothing,' Burk tells the Tribune. 'How stupid. And shortsighted.

'(Allen's) attitude is sort of indicative of so many folks in the WNBA, devaluing the women's work. It's absolutely outrageous that they're squeezing the women to this extent.'

Burk's group, the National Council for Women's Organizations, announced support for the WNBA players union on Wednesday in its negotiations with the league. Today was the deadline for the union and owners to reach an agreement on a collective bargaining agreement, or NBA Commissioner David Stern said the season would be canceled.

Burk cites Stern's comments during last season's WNBA All-Star Game in Washington, D.C., about the league being an investment and profitability not essential. It is a point that Allen seems to have ignored, Burk says.

'They're demanding this brand-new team (the Fire) makes a profit,' Burk says. 'This is a great change from last summer.'

There is also the issue of Allen losing an estimated $100 million on the Blazers this season, not to mention his expenditures on other projects, such as the newly planned Science Fiction Experience at Seattle Center.

'It was not a good economic decision to let (the Fire) go down the tube,' Burk says. 'Call me a conspiracy theorist É but the WNBA teams' folding loomed large in the negotiations. They say, 'Look, we have two teams (Portland and Miami) that haven't made it.' '

Burk criticizes the WNBA for not negotiating in good faith with players, who had made a counteroffer to owners that was not promptly 'recognized.'

'The league is acting as if they're the only investors,' Burk says. 'Women have made a huge investment. If you look at foregone pay, they've made a monetary contribution compared to what they could get going to Europe.'

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