Plight of WNBA athlete parallels society

Anna Malesiewski, Features Editor

Phoenix Mercury center Brittney Griner is a household name – and one of the most dominant athletes of all time.

However, Griner is being held in custody in Russia – a situation that threatens her safety in a time of international unrest and has caused many to ask whether this could have been prevented if the NBA cared more about its female athletes in the WNBA.

Griner is facing drug-smuggling charges after authorities said they discovered vaping equipment and cannabis-oil cartridges in her luggage last month at an airport near Moscow.

Griner’s arrest happened after U.S. intelligence warned of Russia’s imminent invasion of Ukraine, but well before Russian military was present there. Now, if Griner is convicted, she could face up to 10 years in prison.

Griner was arrested while she was flying from New York to Russia to continue playing for one of Russia’s most prominent basketball teams – UMMC Ekaterinburg. This is common for WNBA athletes.

Many athletes work in other countries during the WNBAs off season because other leagues are simply more lucrative than those in the U.S. Griner is reported to be earning more than $1 million to play for the Russian team, while her base salary with the Mercury is $221,450.

For weeks, the WNBA and the NBA were aware of Griner’s plight but did little to help to avoid provoking the Russian government. Gay marriage is prohibited in Russia, and in 2013, the Russian government passed a “gay propaganda law” that bans distributing information about LGBTQ issues and their relationships with minors. Griner’s plight is extremely troublesome, as she is a queer, female athlete held by authorities in a country that is hostile toward the LGBTQ community.

Some on social media and in the press have wondered whether this could have been avoided if the NBA simply paid WNBA athletes more or cared more about the WNBA itself. If Griner was paid more by the league, maybe she wouldn’t have played overseas in the first place.

However, there is more to it than that.

The issue is a cultural and societal one, rather than an issue of sexism within the NBA.

The best-paid athletes, in the NBA or otherwise, are paid the way they are because they are stars. They put up the most points, have among the best of abilities and have marketing and partnership potential.

Brittney Griner is no less of a star within the WNBA than Lebron James is within the NBA.

So why, as a culture, do we tend to watch the NBA over the WNBA?

There are simply more people watching the NBA, which is why NBA athletes are paid more. Since the NBA is more popular than the WNBA, brands are more likely to partner with an NBA athlete than a WNBA athlete, unless they are making a conscious effort to include more women in their marketing plans.

Do I think the NBA could do more to uplift their female athletes? Yes. But I also think that as a society, we could do more to uplift our women.

I’m not sure why society prefers men’s sports over women’s. I’m not sure why we decided that men’s sports are more interesting than women’s.

But it’s the same game. Just different players.


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