Free Brittney Griner
By Ben Spaeth
Photo: The Boston Globe – Source
Brittney Griner is a two-time US gold medalist, WNBA champion, NCAA Champion, two-time WNBA scoring champion, two-time defensive player of the year, first overall pick in the 2013 WNBA draft, and a seven-time WNBA all-star. Her list of accolades goes on and on. The point here is that Brittney Griner is one of the best women's basketball players in the world. She is also very American. She was born in Houston, Texas and went on to play her high school ball in Houston where she dominated. She was the number one high school basketball player in the country. After high school, she went on to play on Baylor University’s women’s team. She dominated there as well. She was the first woman to score a triple-double in Baylor history, was a three-time Big 12 player of the year, and was the seventh woman to dunk in a college basketball game (Was also the second woman to ever dunk twice in a college game).
If any man possessed the same accolades as Brittney Griner, they’d have a shoe deal with Nike, a maximum NBA contract, and would be one of the most famous players in the NBA. Brittney is on a WNBA maximum contract, but WNBA maximum contracts are far different then NBA ones. If you’re on a max contract in the NBA you’ll make up to 25%-30% of the team's annual salary cap, which is currently $112.4 million, but that number seems to go up every year so in theory a player gets a raise each year of their contract. There are also some teams that spend more than the salary cap which makes the calculations different for each team. Stephen Curry currently is on a max contract with the Golden State Warriors and makes $45 million a year. Brittney Griner’s max contract pays her $221,450 a year. I understand that the audience for these two leagues is very different and the WNBA doesn’t get the same ratings as the NBA, but the pay gap between the best in both of these leagues is too vast not to draw comparisons.
In the WNBA offseason, Griner usually signs with a team in an international league. Something completely unheard of in most men’s professional sports. Most players use this time to recover from a long season. In 2013, a year after her rookie season, she signed a four month $600,00 contract to play with the Zhejiang Golden Bulls. Not only is that more money then her max NBA contract, but it was twelve times more than her WNBA rookie deal. After one season in China though, she started spending her off seasons playing in Russia for UMMC Ekaterinburg where she won two championships.
Unfortunately, this year when she went to go play with UMMC Ekaterinburg, she was arrested at a Russian airport for having hash oil in a vape cartridge. An offense that could get her 10 years in a Russian prison. I understand some people’s first reaction to this situation might be, “well she didn’t follow the rules, so she got what was coming.” However, it is incredibly common amongst athletes to use cannabis. There’s a sizable amount of NFL players out there that say using cannabis helped them manage pain and stay off opioids. Additionally, Kenyon Martin, who played fifteen seasons in the NBA, estimated that 85% of the players in the league smoked cannabis. For many athletes it’s a part of their pregame ritual to smoke. Former NFL defensive end Shaun Smith said he smoked two blunts before every game he played. There are also numerous players who have started their own cannabis growing business after retiring. Hall of Fame wide receiver Calvin Johnson started his own business called Primitiv and has even gone on the Pat McAfee Show to advertise his products.
While yes, Brittney Griner may have committed a crime by bringing hash oil cartridges into Russia, do not let the stigma of cannabis cloud how you perceive this story. Brittney Griner is a political prisoner. The United States currently lacks extradition laws from Russia. Any release of Griner to the United States is going to take negotiations from both the Russian and United States embassies. Unfortunately her arrest comes at a time where relations between the two countries are as hostile as they’ve been since the Cold War. Griner has been detained by Russian officials since February 17. One can’t help, but wonder, if Brittney Griner was a man, would the United States already made a deal for her release? If Stephen Curry or Lebron James was being threatened with ten years in a foreign prison, that’s all the media would be talking about until they were released. Instead most media organizations are focused on the war in Ukraine, Will Smith, or the latest word Marjorie Talyor Greene mispronounced.