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Sports Authority

McGinley: Fix the inequity that had Brittney Griner in Russia to start

| Wednesday, April 13, 2022

I am not a lawyer, and I am not a diplomat.

I am not a war strategist. Nor am I an international relations academic.

I do not know the right path forward through Brittney Griner’s arrest and her developing situation in Russia.

What I do know is why Brittney Griner was in Russia in the first place, and it’s much more complex than just playing a basketball game.

Brittney Griner, like the rest of the star athletes in the WNBA, is so drastically underpaid compared to her male counterparts in this country that she must play in other countries in her off season to make the majority of her money. Countries like Russia and Latvia are thousands of miles away from family, friends and primary fan bases.

LeBron James? Steph Curry? Tom Brady?

They would never. The idea wouldn’t even cross their minds.

Brittney Griner may not sit on the same throne in her sport as these men do in theirs. Still, she is a valuable asset to every team she plays on. Griner is a seven-time WNBA All-Star center who plays for the Phoenix Mercury in the U.S. and the UMMC Ekaterinburg overseas.

Breanna Stewart, the WNBA’s current LeBron James (in terms of skill level and notoriety), plays overseas. As did Sue Bird, the WNBA’s Michael Jordan — if you will. And Diana Taurasi, who — for the sake of the metaphor — is the WNBA’s Kobe (and Griner’s teammate on both the Mercury and formerly on Ekaterinburg), plays abroad too.

Stewart is considering giving up her Seattle Storm contract for the money she receives from the overseas play. Bird told “60 Minutes” she remembers her first WNBA salary because it — at less than $60,000 — was one-tenth what she could make overseas.

Now, as the stars of their sport, Stewart and Taurasi make “max salary” in the WNBA, earning $228,094. Griner, a star in her own right, earns a contract worth $227,900. That’s not nothing, but with the locations they play in and the appearance commitments that come with playing basketball, this money feels like under-compensation.

Here’s why it feels that way.

While WNBA maximum salaries are capped at just under a quarter of a million dollars a year, the minimum salary in the NBA for the 2021-22 season ranges from $925,258 to $2.6 million per year. The experience a given player possesses decides where they fall in that range. This means, though, that someone who does not once leave the bench for an NBA team earns four times what a WNBA star earns in a year. That is atrocious and is indicative neither of the player’s talent nor her dedication to the game.

It is not bad luck that Brittney Griner got caught with a vape in a Russian airport and is now detained. There are several factors that go into that individual moment. However, the reason she was there is the product of systemic pay inequality that has left women without an alternative option. Overseas games keep them afloat. Why can’t we pour that kind of money or attention into them here? Clearly, the fan base is possible. It exists in other countries. Make money off the sport here and bring that money to the women who devote themselves to the game.

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About Mannion McGinley

Mannion McGinley is an American Studies and Sociology major with a Journalism minor in Notre Dame's class of 2023. She is a member of the Glynn Family Honors program and currently serves as an Assistant Managing Editor at The Observer.

Contact Mannion