Griner’s detention in Russia tied to US gender pay gap, manager says

WNBA star Britney Griner’s manager said Wednesday that she would not have been in Russia in the first place if she received adequate pay as a professional basketball player in the U.S.

Griner, a two-time Olympian, was detained at a Russian airport in February after a canine unit discovered hashish oil in her carry-on luggage.

She was taken into custody by Russian Federal Customs Service, and an investigation by Russian officials was opened into allegations of large-scale transportation of drugs, a charge that carries with it a 10-year prison sentence.  

In March, a judge extended her detainment until May 19.

Lindsay Kagawa Colas, who has represented Griner since 2013, said that she was in contact with her player the day of her detention via text message.

“Ever since that day, it has meant working furiously to try to summon every resource I can to help her, so that I can keep another promise I made after she was formally charged and minutes before she was led away,” Colas wrote in an op-ed published by the Los Angeles Times.

Colas said that while Griner’s detention has risen to the “top of the news” because of geopolitical reasons, “at its underbelly lies a story of gender-pay disparity here in the United States.”

And although she cannot share details of the case while U.S. officials, her team, family and lawyers try to get Griner home, she said she must talk “about why Brittney was in Russia in the first place.”

“The reality is that more than half of the women in the WNBA currently supplement their incomes by playing for professional clubs overseas from the end of the WNBA season to the start of the next,” Colas said.

In the WNBA off-season, Griner plays for UMMC Ekaterinburg, an elite Russian basketball club team.

“To date, the largest contracts paid to women basketball players have come from Russian and Turkish clubs. Top athletes can make six to seven times the maximum WNBA salary overseas — and the disparity as recently as 2019 was 10 to 15 times more than WNBA salaries,” she added.

Colas concluded that because of the gender pay gap, Griner has found herself in a dangerous situation.

“Now we have a high-stakes example of how economic disparity can have terrifying consequences,” she said.

The State Department on Wednesday emphasized that Griner’s case remains a “top priority” amid news of another U.S. citizen’s release from Russian custody.

Former Marine Taylor Reed was released from Russian custody as part of a prisoner exchange for a Russian national jailed for U.S. drug trafficking charges.

“When it comes to Brittney Griner, we are working very closely with her team. Her case is a top priority for us,” State Department spokesman Ned Price said. “We’re in regular contact with her team.”

Tags Brittney Griner detention Gender pay gap WNBA

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