Brittney Griner is still imprisoned in Russia, and while it has flown under the radar with everything else going on in sports, the WNBA community made sure they brought light to the situation during their annual WNBA Draft.
The WNBA Draft was on Monday at Spring Studios in the Tribeca section of New York, and a lot of young talented women had their dreams come true. It was a joyous moment for the 36 women who were selected over the draft’s three rounds. But the WNBA also made sure it didn’t abandon the political troubles WNBA superstar Brittney Griner is facing.
Ahead of the draft, WNBA Commissioner Cathy Engelbert continued to back up the WNBA’s mission in assisting Brittney Griner and helping to bring her home from Russia. Griner has been held in Russia since mid-February. She was detained by the Russian federal customs service, trying to re-enter the country to join her Russian team Ekaterinburg with vaping materials and cannabis oils. She has been there since. Though Griner is set to be released on May 19, the WNBA is still doing everything it can to expedite her release.
In a statement before the draft, Engelbert said, “I did want to start by saying that we continue to be working diligently on bringing Brittney Griner home,” said Englebert. “This is an unimaginable situation for BG (Brittney Griner) to be in. She continues to have our full support. She’s just been such a great person in the league that I can’t be any more real about the situation she’s in. Certainly we’re trying everything we can, every angle, working through with her legal representation, her agent, elected leaders, the administration, just everybody in our ecosystem to try to find ways to get her home safely and as quickly as we can. So thank you all for that.”
Engelbert went on to introduce some initiatives that would be taking place to help and assist and promote Griner’s situation stating, “One thing I wanted to make clear is that in the meantime while we’re working very hard to get Brittney home, we will have a league-wide philanthropic initiative led by the Phoenix Mercury, honoring BG and modeled after her work,” Englebert continued. “That will take place in all 12 WNBA markets as we lead up to tip-off in less than a month.”
Engelbert also promoted Brittney Griner’s charitable foundations that she started.
“BG founded an organization in 2016 called BG’s Heart and Sole Shoe Drive. The activations that we will do, the Mercury and the league, are intended to remind us of BG’s spirit of giving and do the work she’d be doing if she were here, and certainly the work she will join us in when she returns.”
The silver lining in this situation is that Griner’s situation has brought heightened attention to pay inequity in women’s sports.
WNBA Players Association president and six-time All-Star Nneka Ogwumike discussed the circumstances surrounding Griner’s detention in Russia on “Good Morning America” Tuesday.
The Los Angeles Sparks star said, “The reality is that she’s over there because of a gender issue — pay inequity,” she said on GMA.
WNBA players have salaries that pale in comparison to NBA salaries, with the highest-paid women’s player (Phoenix Mercury legend Diana Taurasi) making $228,094. NBA players make millions per season.
Many WNBA athletes have to play overseas during the offseason to make extra money. Ogwumike says the root of Griner’s dilemma isn’t about cannabis oils, but a gross pay disparity that forces professional athletes who are women and mothers to leave the country to survive.
So even though it’s still just over a month until Griner returns to the U.S, the WNBA community is thinking about her, and doing anything it can to support her.