WNBA star Brittney Griner told reporters Thursday that she plans to never play overseas again after spending 10 months in Russian detention in 2022.
Griner spent the 2021-22 NBA offseason playing in Russia. She was arrested for possessing cannabis oil at an airport. Griner maintains she was using the cannabis for medical purposes and had a prescription. She was freedin December.
The event was Griner’s first news conference since returning from Russia and comes as her Phoenix Mercury prepare for the 2023 WNBA season. The Mercury’s first game is May 9 versus the Seattle Storm.
Griner said the only time she would play overseas again is if she is with the U.S. national team.
“The whole reason a lot of us go over is the pay gap,” she said. “A lot of us go over there to make an income and support our families and to support ourselves. I don’t knock any player who wants to go overseas and make some extra money.”
Griner added that she hopes the league continues to grow and more leagues invest in the WNBA.
“It is a shame we have to leave our families for holidays. I mean, you’re missing everything being away, but at the same time, as much as I would love to pay my light bill for the love of the game, I can’t,” Griner said. “Hopefully, that changes, though.”
It's worth noting, though, that the average WNBA salary is roughly $100,000, with a minimum salary of just over $60,000 and a maximum of about $228,000, but that can go higher with certain bonuses.
During the news conference, Griner fought back tears when asked about returning to the league.
“I am no stranger to hard times,” she said. “Just digging deep, honestly. You’re going to be faced with adversities throughout your life — this was a pretty big one — but I kind of relied on myself and getting through it.”
Griner’s news conference came on the same day that a number of major news outlets printed an advertisement demanding Russia release Wall Street Journal reporter Evan Gershkovich. He was arrested last month for allegedly spying.
He, along with fellow American Paul Whelan, are the two highest-profile Americans in Russian custody. The State Department considers both Americans wrongfully detained by Russia.
“To those wrongfully detained across the world: Stay strong, keep fighting, don’t give up, just keep waking up and find a little routine and stick to a little routine,” Griner said. “That’s what helped me.”
Griner said she will continue advocating for the release of Americans wrongfully detained.
“President Biden, if he could just go over there right now and grab everybody who has been left behind, he would,” Griner said. “It’s hard. It’s hard.”
Griner was released to the U.S. in exchange for Viktor Bout, an international arms dealer. The Department of Justice accused Bout of conspiring to sell millions of dollars worth of weapons, including hundreds of surface-to-air missiles and over 20,000 AK-47s to the Fuerzas Armadas Revolucionarias de Colombia.
In addition to advocating for Americans wrongfully detained, Griner said she’ll be pushing against bans on transgender participation in sports. A number of states have recently passed bills banning transgender girls from participating in youth and high school athletics. The U.S. House also passed a billthat would effectively prohibit trans girls from playing on school sports teams
“Everyone deserves the right to play. Everyone deserves the right to come here, sit in these seats and feel safe and not feel like there is a threat or they can’t be who they are,” Griner said. “I think it is a crime, honestly, to separate someone for any reason.”
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