It seems pertinent on Women’s Equality Day to mention that there are still WNBA players going overseas to earn more money than they would by playing stateside.
Brittney Griner has been detained by the Russian government for five months and counting now, and even though the New York Times reported there aren’t any hoopers going to play in the shadow of the Kremlin, it’s business (kind of) as usual with women playing for international teams in the offseason.
The issue with Russia being off limits because no one wants to cop a decade in the gulag for a vape cartridge is that the Russian Women’s Basketball Premier League is the most lucrative outlet for women players. The second-best option is Turkey’s Women’s Basketball Super League, which has seen a boom as the WNBAers it couldn’t afford to lure away from Russia are now flocking to the next best option.
International relations are always shifting, and even though Turkey isn’t on the United State’s radar like Russia is after it invaded Ukraine, the European/Asian country has its own dictator-moonlighting-as-a-president in Recep Tayyip Erdoğan.
While I hate to cite anything remotely touching Enes Freedom, there’s a reason he’s not allowed home. That said, the likelihood of another WNBA player becoming a political prisoner is low, yet the fact that it remains a possibility is the issue.
This isn’t groundbreaking or revelatory stuff, it’s just a reminder that the avenues for women to make the money their basketball skills merit are unheard of for any male pro athlete. It’s also not getting any easier as the WNBA is making it harder for players to play abroad with owners seeking guarantees that players don’t miss the start of the season as many of the seasons overlap with the start of the WNBA calendar.
And as easy as it is to paint the WNBA as the bad guy, their hands are tied because altruism and capitalism rarely, if ever, cross paths. The only upside to America adopting its own version of oligarchs is the Russians inject wads of Rubles into the women’s game because it’s some sort of pride/political arms race.
Even though there are safer options like France, Italy, Israel, and Spain, those countries don’t pay as much, and with players unwilling to go to Russia now, the market drops. When you add in the effect of COVID — with stricter countries like China and South Korea prioritizing safety over sports — all of sudden the options aren’t what they once were.
America hasn’t fallen in love with Team USA the way it embraced the USWNT and assuredly race is the overriding reason. It’s no fault of the sport of soccer, it’s simply a sad, frustrating, maddening reality that’s a product of systemic racism that’s infected this country to its core.
Bring BG home and pay not only these hoopers — but all women — what they deserve.