Entertainment And News

Brittney Griner’s Arrest In Russia Exposes Gender Pay Gap In US Sports & The Mistreatment Of Black Queer Women

Photo: Keeton Gale / Shutterstock / Twitter
Brittney Griner

Brittney Griner, a WNBA player who plays for the Phoenix Mercury, had been detained in Russia over alleged drug charges for the past month.

Russian authorities had accused Griner, 31, of smuggling significant amounts of a narcotic substance after finding cannabis oil in her luggage. It's an offense that is punishable by up to 10 years in prison.

In a statement, The Russia Federal Customs Service said that the athlete had flown to Moscow from New York in February when a customs service dog at the Sheremetyevo International Airport indicated that drugs were possibly located inside her carry-on bag.

Will Brittney Griner be released?

According to a member of the US House Armed Services Committee, "it's going to be very difficult" to get Griner out of Russia, especially since diplomatic relationships between the U.S. and Russia are strained following Russia's invasion of Ukraine.

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Adrienne Lawrence, a California attorney and legal commentator, told Insider that she is uncertain about the Russian story surrounding Griner's arrest, and says this arrest has larger international implications.

"It's difficult to know whether Griner had contraband on her or not. Again, this isn't her first rodeo in Russia. She's worked here for some seven years. So it makes it unlikely that she would break the rules, but we do know mistakes happen," Lawrence said.

The Biden administration has been working to get Griner out of Russia, according to members of the Congressional Black Caucus, who met with President Biden on Monday.

However, many have asked why a WNBA player would be in Russia in the first place.

The answer lies in the gender pay gap in US basketball.

Griner, who is a two-time Olympic basketball gold medalist, and is the star player on both the U.S. and Russia teams she plays for, had been playing overseas during the WNBA's off-season to make more money.

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She has competed for the European club, UMMC Ekaterinburg since 2014, and hasn't been the only WNBA basketball player who has done so. More than half of WNBA players, including Diana Taurasi, Sue Bird, and Candace Parker, will play overseas to earn more of an income than if they stayed in the U.S.

"The only reason you go there is for money," Taurasi, who also plays for the Phoenix Mercury, told ESPN. "That is the only reason you leave your country to go to a different country to play basketball."

Per a union agreement that was signed in 2020, income of a WNBA player was less than $130,000, with salaries maxing out around $500,000. It's a major difference to the salaries earned by male NBA players, who earn close to tens of millions of dollars.

Griner reportedly earns $1 million per season with UMMC Ekaterinburg, which is four times her 2022 Phoenix Mercury base salary.

However, Griner's Russian team is owned by billionaire, Iskander Makhmudov. Makhmudov has been named as one of the oligarchs with ties to Russian President Vladimir Putin within the Putin Accountability Act that is being considered by Congress.

Brittney Griner's identity as a Black queer woman may also make her vulnerable to mistreatment.

It was also noted that Russia has extremely strict rules and laws when it comes to the LGBTQ community, although it's not clear if those rules will impact Griner's case, considering Griner is married to a woman, Cherelle.

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The LGBTQ community in Russia has spoken out about the discrimination and harassment that they face from the Russian government. Last month, the Russian Ministry of Justice tried to shut down one of the country's most active and prominent gay rights groups, the Russian LGBT Network.

In 2019, two people had been killed and 40 others were detained during a suppression on the LGTBTQ community in Chechnya.

Many people have assumed that Reiner is being detained because she is American, which was suggested by Rep. Joaquin Castro on Twitter.

"This follows a pattern of Russia wrongly detaining & imprisoning US citizens, including Trevor Reed. US citizens are not political pawns. Brittney, Trevor, and other Americans must be safely returned," Castro wrote.

Regardless of the current war between Russia and Ukraine, Russia has a long history of using drug charges to detain people, including political opponents, activists, and journalists. 

More than 40,000 people have signed a petition titled 'Secure Brittney Griner's Swift and Safe Return to the U​.​S.,' urging elected officials to help in bringing Griner back to America.

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Nia Tipton is a writer living in Brooklyn. She covers pop culture, social justice issues, and trending topics. Follow her on Instagram.

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