An American athlete has been detained in a foreign country for nearly a month, and we are just now finding out about it. That sentence alone is scary, but as the details start to be revealed in light of current world events, it’s downright horrific. Brittney Griner, a 31 year old gay black woman, was detained in a Russian airport sometime in the last 3 weeks or so, and charged with with drug smuggling. Russian officials are claiming she was trying to travel with “hashish oil,” which is a crime in Russia that could result in up to 10 years in prison. In “normal” times, that would be a terrifying thought, especially with Russia’s history of violence against LGBTQ people. But with Russia invading Ukraine, a bad situation can quickly become so much worse. But why was Griner there in the first place, why did it take so long for us to find out, and why is the American sport consuming public to blame?
Why was she in Russia in the first place?
This was my first thought when I heard she had been detained, before I knew this had happened weeks ago as she was trying to leave the country. You see, I knew, at least anecdotally, that many players in the WNBA play overseas in the off season. I mistakenly assumed that was reserved for the lesser known players though. Surely someone with the resume of Brittney Griner wouldn’t need to play overseas? WNBA Champion, NCAA Champion, 7 time All-Star, 2 time Olympic Gold medalist, 2 time WNBA scoring champion, 2 time WNBA Defensive Player of the Year, 3 time All-WNBA First Team, 3 time All-WNBA Second Team, the list goes on and on and on. And that list includes 3 time Russian league champion, because she too, plays overseas.
Brittney Griner is one of the highest paid players in the WNBA.
In fact, only 3 players are set to make more than her this coming season, and all three of those players by less than $200 dollars more. Griner’s contract is set to pay her $227,900 for the 22-23 season. Let’s compare that to the contract of Georgios Kalaitzakis, the player selected last in the 2021 NBA Draft. Kalaitzakis made $462,629 just for signing his two-way rookie contract. If he actually suits up for an NBA team he will make more than a million dollars a season. Take a look at that list in the last paragraph of Griner’s accolades again. You really think she should be making a quarter of what the last pick in the NBA Draft is due to make? Even if you add her playing contract to her endorsement deal with Nike, which is reported to be around $1 Million, she comes up short. (Remember, Zion Williamson signed a deal straight out of Duke with Nike that is reportedly worth $75 Million.)
If the top paid stars of the WNBA, athletes who are the faces of the league, make that amount, imagine the size of the deals of the players who aren’t household names. This is why so many WNBA players have to play overseas during the offseason… simply to make ends meet.
And that is the fault of the American sports viewer.
Plain and simple, the women athletes in this country don’t get the shine they deserve. Women’s basketball is routinely mocked by men who aren’t worthy to tie these ladies sneakers. The US Women’s soccer team had to fight an extremely public legal battle to be promised equal pay to their male counterparts. A men’s team who has won 1000% less things than the women have. And that’s just the tip of the iceberg. The WNBA’s New York Liberty are in trouble simply because they chartered a flight. This is against WNBA rules because not every team can afford to do so. Professional sports teams should not be unable to afford a charter flight. Especially when a single college basketball game has tickets reselling for more money than Super Bowl tickets.
We’re guilty of it too. We have not covered women’s sports nearly as much as we should. And that’s true by several orders of magnitude more for the big sports media outfits. The women’s version of every sport is just as exciting as the male equivalent. Maybe if we stopped treating women as second class citizen’s, we could actually start to make things better in general. But we haven’t. Therefore it is entirely our fault a prominent US athlete is in the terrifying predicament she’s in. So maybe next time you sit down to watch some sports on the weekend…find a women’s contest. It’s quite literally the least you can do.
- / 12 months ago
To me, Rachel Nichols is the personification of posting a black square on Instagram.