Brittney Griner arrested at Russian airport


Photo Credit: Reuters

Brittney Griner, a two time Olympic gold medalist and seven-time Women’s National Basketball All-Star with the Phoenix Mercury basketball team, has been detained in Russia for weeks. Customs officials detected vape cartridges filled with cannabis oil in her luggage at the Sheremetyevo airport near Moscow leading to her arrest on drug charges. 

The arrest which occurred publicly in February, made many people wonder why Griner was in Russia in the first place; however, it’s not uncommon for WNBA players to go play overseas during the offseason. Griner has earned more than $1 million in a year while playing with UMMC Ekaterinburg in Russia for the last seven WNBA offseasons. 

Playing in Europe offers the WNBA players an opportunity to earn four to five times their salaries than what they make in the U.S. 

According to NBC news, “the maximum base salary in the WNBA is $228,000 a year — the minimum is $60,000 — under a collective bargaining agreement that was signed in 2020 and extends through 2027. Griner, who is among the highest-paid players in the league, is set to have a base salary of $227,900 with the Mercury for the 2022 season.

With Griner’s achievements at the age of 31, $228,000 a year is nothing compared to the $1 million she makes overseas. She has helped the U.S. bring home two Olympic gold medals. In addition, she has also won a WNBA championship and a college national championship.

Women basketball players such as Griner will never pass up an opportunity to demand money overseas when they know their worth, potential and hard work they put on the court. 

“This is the big paycheck — for all of us,” Todd Troxel told ESPN in 2016, when he was an assistant coach for both UMMC and the Phoenix Mercury. “We all love Phoenix, but ultimately it’s all about here,” he said, referring to Russia.

About 70 players went to compete overseas during this offseason, along with Griner, the WNBA announced on Monday. The league confirmed all players were out of Russia and Ukraine, except Griner. 

As of now, Griner is still being held in Russia. The State Department urges all U.S. citizens to leave Russia immediately if they are still there while the conflict between Russia and Ukraine escalates. They also issued an advisory not to travel to Russia at the moment. 

Griner’s family, friends, team and more all worry about the painful uncertainty of hearing news upon her return back to the U.S.

Over the weekend, Rep. Sheila Jackson Lee (D), who represents Griner’s hometown of Houston, asked for her release. “We know that there were some issues dealing with vape cartridges and other items, but let me be very clear,” she said at a public event Saturday, “Brittney Griner is a United States citizen, she was a guest in Russia … and I will be demanding her release.”

“I understand that many of you have grown to love BG over the years and have concerns and want details,” Griner’s wife, Cherelle Griner, wrote Sunday on Instagram. “Your prayers and support are greatly appreciated. I love my wife wholeheartedly.”

The Phoenix Mercury team said, “We love and support Brittney and at this time our main concern is her safety, physical and mental health, and her safe return home.”