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Brittney Griner, 31, was arrested over 60 days ago in Russia’s Sheremetyevo airport near Moscow on drug smuggling charges, which have since been extended until at least May 19.
At the time of her arrest, she was there to play basketball at a higher salary than American teams offer.
While Russia and the U.S. are vastly different places, our American-born female star athletes are often financially rewarded more abroad than at home.
If Brittney Griner received equal pay at home, she wouldn’t be held in Russia right now.
Most Americans believe women deserve equal pay for equal work. Though pay gaps exist for women across many industries, professional women basketball players, in particular, must often decide to leave everything and everyone they know in order to establish wealth. Brittney Griner is one of those players.
The gender pay gap has many effects, however, the real-life consequences may not be more apparent for anyone more than the two-time Olympian. She was detained by Russian police after they reported finding vape cartridges allegedly containing cannabis oil in Griner’s luggage on Feb. 17.
Brittney Griner is failed by America.
According to Bloomberg Law, Mississippi is set to become the 50th state to enact an equal pay law with legislation that won final approval two weeks ago.
The bill, headed for the desk of Gov. Tate Reeves (R), would require companies to pay women the same as men doing the same job. It would apply to employees working at least 40 hours a week.
This is just now passing. In 2022.
Laws created by men often force women to make the hardest decisions of their lives.
When access is denied, alternatives are found. In the same way banning abortions doesn’t stop abortions, many of the draconian laws leave women with no good options. Whether seeking equal pay or a place to safely have a medical procedure, women are left to pick between the lesser of two evils and make life-altering decisions outside of their comfort zone.
Born in Houston, TX, Brittney Griner played her college hoops at Waco and professionally in Phoenix. Yet, she had to go far outside of her comfort zone just to earn what she was worth right here at home.
WNBA Players often play abroad for more money.
“Playing there was not easy because the lifestyle and the way of living is a lot different than what you experience in other places in Europe and America,” said DeLisha Milton-Jones, one of the first marquee American players to play in Russia in the early 2000s.
“The extremes of the weather — it’s pitch black dark at 5 p.m. I had to wear my big jacket warming up sometimes since it was minus-40 degrees outside,” said Milton-Jones, who played for UMKC Ekaterinburg — the same team as Brittney Griner.
In the early 2000s, top WNBA players could earn about $125,000 a year as part of a marketing deal with the league. Today, the salary for elite players is about $500,000. By playing in Russia, those players can earn another $1 million to $1.5 million per ABC News.
In comparison, NBA Champion Giannis Antetokounmpo earned $39, 344,900 in 2021-2022 while Brittney Griner, a WNBA Champion, remains locked up in Russia while trying to supplement her income.
Nneka Ogwumike, President of the WNBA Players Association, reiterates, “It’s disappointing that the question of it being a gender issue is top of mind now when it comes to this type of circumstance and the reality is she’s over there because of a gender issue, pay inequity.”
What is being done federally?
March 15th was Equal Pay Day, and the Biden-Harris Administration announced a comprehensive approach to “Advance Pay Equity and Support Women’s Economic Security.” Yet until these best-laid plans are actualized, women will continue to be forced to make difficult decisions that could have unforeseen consequences like Brittney Griner.
Griner is scheduled to reappear in court on May 19. At that time, investigators could either request more time to gather evidence or declare the case file ready and formally bring charges against her. If prosecuted, she could serve up to 10 years.