WNBA star Brittney Griner, detained in Russia, is guilty only of pursuing a salary that matches her skill

Brittney Griner in a screengrab from a Russian state-run news channel. (Twitter/@CNN - image credit)

Brittney Griner in a screengrab from a Russian state-run information channel. (Twitter/@CNN – picture credit score)

It is a column by Morgan Campbell, who writes opinion for CBC Sports activities. For extra details about CBC’s Opinion section, please see the FAQ.

We have lastly seen a post-arrest photo of WNBA star Brittney Griner — she stands in a colorless room, carrying a black T-shirt and casts a clean stare right into a digital camera whereas holding a sheet of paper bearing her title.

Russia’s state-run information company revealed the image early Wednesday, so we all know that Griner, no less than within the moments after she was hauled into custody by Russian authorities for possessing hashish oil and vape pens, was alive and comparatively wholesome. Past that, particulars about Griner’s well-being and authorized standing are as sparse because the decor within the room the place she was photographed. We do not know when the photograph was snapped, or whether or not she has entry to fundamentals like diet, recent air and a reliable lawyer.

We simply know, as a result of Russian authorities have instructed us, that the seven-time WNBA all-star might face 10 years in jail if convicted of the offences they’re alleging.

If hashish oil and vape pens are nonetheless unlawful in most locations in North America, they’re solely barely so. Like driving with expired tags. It is an issue most jurisdictions over right here resolve with warnings and fines, and never life-changing stints in jail. That Griner faces a decade-long incarceration says extra about Russia’s outdated legal guidelines than it does about her.

It is also telling that Russian authorities waited a while — between every week and a month — earlier than asserting the arrest, regardless that Griner is a two-time Olympic gold medallist, and one of many WNBA’s greatest names. Think about Canadian police arresting a Russian NHL star, detaining him with out bail, and staying quiet about it for 20 days.

Would not occur.

Ukraine invasion has strained relations

However Canada is not Russia, and no North American athlete is as jammed up on the intersection of sports activities and geopolitics as Griner, who performs with UMMC Ekaterinburg between WNBA seasons.

On this state of affairs, diplomatic stress between the U.S. and Russia is a continuing. When Joe Biden defeated Donald Trump within the 2020 presidential election, Russian President Vladimir Putin misplaced a sympathetic head of state in the western hemisphere. And American assertions that Russian authorities arrest and imprison U.S. nationals on flimsy pretexts spans presidential administrations.

However Russia’s invasion of Ukraine has turned strained relations unstable. The U.S. is amongst an extended listing of countries imposing sanctions which are hobbling Russia’s financial system. This week, the U.S. pledged to cease importing Russian oil. Russia, in the meantime, has the U.S. on a listing of “unfriendly countries” it republished earlier this week.

How did Griner wind up in the course of this Chilly Warfare reboot?


We might name UMMC Ekaterinburg her low season job, besides that staff doubtless pays Griner a number of occasions what the Phoenix Mercury do. So if you wish to name her a Russian league star who moonlights within the WNBA, you are not utterly unsuitable.

Getty Images

Getty Photos

Male athletes usually have profitable choices

Roughly half of the WNBA’s gamers toil abroad between seasons. Griner and WNBA legend Diana Tarausi play in Russia, the place gamers could make life-changing cash, however the place the top of state is bent on annexing neighbouring international locations by power.

That one of many high gamers on the planet is languishing in pretrial detention in Russia highlights the dangers many WNBA gamers courtroom when pursuing a wage that matches their expertise. It is a scary state of affairs for Griner and her family members, and a high-stakes instance of the prices that useful resource disparity imposes on feminine athletes.

When male superstars land in international locations with dodgy human rights data or power-hungry dictators, it is usually simply certainly one of various profitable choices. Anthony Joshua and Andy Ruiz had been doubtless going to gross north of $20 million, irrespective of the place they contested their heavyweight title rematch in late 2019. However Saudi organizers offered $40 million for the bout, in order that’s the place they fought, 14 months after, in keeping with Turkish officers, the Saudi authorities had Saudi-American journalist Jamal Khashoggi assassinated in Istanbul. Similar with the NBA, which would not fold if it refused to do business in China. We’re not speaking make-or-break greenback figures. Simply the distinction between obscene and merely gaudy cash.

Distinction these decisions with those dealing with gamers within the WNBA, the place base salaries vary from $60,000 to $228,000 US per season. For gamers like Griner and Taurasi, a contract in Russia means a seven-figure wage and an opportunity at generational wealth. And for lower-paid gamers, that cash can vault them from the paycheque-to-paycheque grind many common individuals know, to the form of monetary safety most of us crave.

It nearly would not bear mentioning that male gamers of Griner’s stature do not face the identical dilemmas.

Sure, I do know we won’t superimpose an NBA pay scale on the WNBA. The NBA’s median ($4 million) and most ($39.34 million) salaries rise and fall, however principally rise, with the league’s income — $10 billion this season. The WNBA, which grossed $60 million last year, and which simply obtained $75 million in investor funding, is not that large a enterprise but.

However there’s more cash obtainable for expertise.

How do we all know?

As a result of the Las Vegas Aces are set to pay head coach Becky Hammon $1 million per season.

And since the New York Liberty chartered flights for its gamers — and was fined $500,000 by the league for violating the collective bargaining settlement, which considers non-public flights an unfair benefit.

That the WNBA expects first-class gamers to fly coach helps clarify why gamers land in locations like Russia, absorbing perks which are normal in top-flight males’s leagues. And when the WNBA began fining gamers who arrived late to coaching camp from their abroad jobs, it despatched the message that punishments trumped incentives, when gamers actually simply wanted higher choices.

Russian authorities have stated little

So each offseason, gamers weigh abroad employment, generally in international locations hostile to the U.S. And this winter, circumstances aligned to place Griner in essentially the most precarious place possible, dealing with jail time over a minor offence, caught between superpowers whereas Russia wages battle in Ukraine.

Russian authorities have stated little about Griner’s present situation, but when they instructed us she’s loving her all-expenses-paid keep in Moscow, why would we imagine them?

This identical authorities instructed us it invaded Ukraine to rid its neighbour of Nazis, besides it would not label the assault an invasion. It is a “particular army operation,” apparently. The story is as believable because the one explaining 15-year-old determine skater Kamila Valieva‘s constructive take a look at for banned coronary heart medicine. In case you thought her coaches doped her, that is simply your Western bias. The true reality is that she drank water from the identical glass as her grandfather, who in some way left coronary heart medication residue on the rim.

All these tales are taller than the six-foot-nine Brittney Griner, and we cannot know the reality about her state of affairs till she’s again within the U.S. It is going to take sensible individuals and delicate negotiations to make that occur. Few individuals can confidently forecast how this example will resolve. However we all know that so long as WNBA salaries lag, gamers can have incentive to check their luck in Russia.

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