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I think many of us got so caught up in the frenzy of freeing the WNBA star that we forgot about why she was in Russia in the first place. Let’s do a quick recap.
Brittney was basically in Russia because of gender inequality. So she – like other players – went to another country to play basketball in the off-season to make more money than she can earn in America.
When traveling back to the United States, Russian authorities arrested Griner at a Moscow airport after finding a vape pen containing less than a gram of cannabis extracts in her luggage. Pleading guilty to possession and drug smuggling, the 6’9 center for the Phoenix Mercury was ultimately sentenced to nine years in prison.
While all of this was going on, the U.S. government was working behind the scenes to broker deals for her release. NBA players like LeBron James were vocal about her being wrongfully detained and critical of the efforts to bring her home. “She needs to be home, she needs to be safe, she needs to be with her family,” Warriors point guard Steph Curry told ESPN. Celebrities like 50 Cent, Jada Pinkett-Smith, Sherri Shepherd, Justin Bieber and more spoke out in support of freeing Griner and of course the WNBA was on the case.
And it all paid off. Brittney is back home due to a prisoner swap with Russian arms dealer Viktor Bout, also known as the “Merchant of Death.”
So like many news cycles, this one will die down and we’ll be on to the next controversy. But I’m wondering if people will keep the same energy in advocating for income equity for Brittney Griner and all WNBA players so that they won’t have to make these sacrifices going forward.
— PeeplesVoice (@PeeplesVoiceChi) December 8, 2022
According to NPR, the gender pay gap in America is nothing new. In 2020, annual earnings for women in the U.S. were just 82.3% of what men earned. But in the WNBA, the disparity is especially acute.
The average NBA base salary this season is about $5.4 million, compared with about $120,600 for the WNBA. The WNBA season is shorter — 36 games versus 82 in the NBA. But the average annual base salaries mean an NBA player makes 44 times what the average WNBA player makes.
Despite being one of the best, most recognized players and highly accomplished players in the WNBA, her average annual salary was only a little over $200k. Her three-year contract with the Mercury locked her in at $664k and some change which is about $300k less than what the worst NBA players make. If she’s one of the best, why shouldn’t she be making close or equal to what one of the NBA’s best makes?
But some don’t see it that way. Zachary Faria of the Washington Examiner said, “This “pay disparity” is not because of gender. It is because of viewership and entertainment value.” He calls the pay gap between the NBA and WNBA a joke.
However, research has shown, whether at the high school, college and professional level, women-played sports receive less endorsements and investments than their male counterparts. So if player or league value is truly and solely based on viewership and entertainment then obviously business models need to be adjusted to compensate people with what they’re worth.
Advocacy for pay equality and respect for womens’ sports and athletes can prevent a situation like this from ever happening again. Brittney Griner is free–now it’s time to give her her worth in financial freedom.