What is WNBA Star, Brittney Griner Doing in Russia?

WNBA star, Brittney Griner, has been detained in Russia since February when airport security found vape cartridegs in her luggage at the Moscow airport. This past week, her pre-trial detention has been extended, meaning she could be heading to trial soon. Puzzlingly, media coverage has been inconsistent for the last few months and it’s ridiculous. We have a professional athlete likely unjustly detained in a warzone. Where has the uproar been all this time?

As difficult as it is to wrap my head around the whole situation, I’ve been pondering several more questions as Griner’s trial date looms. Here are a few: What would have happened if Tom Brady had been in Griner’s position? Would he have been detained for three months or would American officials intervened immediately? Honestly, if any male professional athlete had been stuck overseas in the middle of a warzone, I’m inclined to believe they wouldn’t have been in that position for as long as Griner has been.

Another serious question I’ve heard is: What was Griner doing in Russia in the first place? That’s one I have an answer to. She was probably earning a living wage. Lots of people assume that WNBA players earn lucrative salaries like their male counterparts, but that isn’t close to true, and as a result, many female basketball players have to compete in the offseason for professional leagues overseas in countries like Russia.

The average median salary for a WNBA rookie ranges from around $60,000-$70,000 per year. Veterans can expect closer to $100,000-$120,000, but even the best of the best in the WNBA cap at roughly $200,000 per year. Though these may look like fairly comfortable salaries at first glance, the average career of a professional athlete, male or female across leagues and sports, is roughly 3 years, meaning that the very best professional women’s basketball players in the world can expect to earn about half a million dollars when all is said and done before they have to find a “real job” for the rest of their lives.

It’s hard for me to imagine an athlete like Tom Brady traveling to Russia every summer to supplement his income, but WNBA legends like Brittney Griner do it all the time. It’s time to raise salaries for female athletes not only because they deserve it, but because it can help keep them safe, comfortable, and close to home.

Katie (M.K.) Lever is a former Division 1 athlete and current doctoral candidate at the University of Texas at Austin where she studies NCAA discourse and policy. She is also a freelance sportswriter and creative writer on the side. She is the author of a new book Surviving the Second Tier available on AMAZON. Follow Katie on  Twitter and Instagram@leverfever.


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