WNBA star Brittney Griner’s nightmare seems to have no end in sight. After being convicted on drug charges last month in Moscow, Russia, her sentence was handed down: nine years in prison and a fine of 1 million rubles ($16,590). The timing of her court case couldn’t have come at worse time in U.S.-Russian relations.
Griner was caught with less than one gram of cannabis oil in vape cartridges in her luggage on Feb. 17. While the judge in the case believes the drugs were packed deliberately, the two-time Olympian called it “an honest mistake” because she was leaving Russia in a hurry as the Ukraine invasion began. “I do plead guilty because of the actions that have happened but again, I did not intend to smuggle or bring any substance into Russia,” she said in court.
President Joe Biden called the ruling “unacceptable” in a statement on Thursday, adding that “Russia is wrongfully detaining Brittney.” The focus now will be on the administration negotiating her release, along with accused spy Paul Whelan, in exchange for convicted Russian arms dealer Victor Bout. “The ball is in Russia’s court,” an official told CNN. The WNBA is also rallying around the 31-year-old athlete sharing, “Today’s verdict and sentencing is unjustified and unfortunate, but not unexpected and Brittney Griner remains wrongly detained,” WNBA Commissioner Cathy Engelbert and NBA Commissioner Adam Silver said in a joint statement. “The WNBA and NBA’s commitment to her safe return has not wavered and it is our hope that we are near the end of this process of finally bringing BG home to the United States.”
— WNBA (@WNBA) August 4, 2022
The reasons for Griner playing for a Russian team in the off-season puts a glaring spotlight on the pay inequities between the WNBA and the NBA. As one of the highest-paid players in the women’s league, she earned $221,450 for the 2021-22 season on the Phoenix Mercury team. She bolstered her income by playing overseas and reportedly earned an additional $1 million for joining the UMMC Ekaterinburg team, per Fortune magazine. If Griner was paid a similar wage to the male basketball players, where average base salary is over $7 million, she wouldn’t have found herself stuck in an international relations fiasco to begin with.
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