How Brittney Grier forced a conversation on equal pay in sports
Brittney Griner, one of the most decorated players in WNBA history, is still imprisoned in Russia. It’s been the headline ever since the story was first reported, and Russian state television released Griner’s booking photo. What many people may not know, or often forget, is why Griner was in Russia in the first place. She was not on vacation or looking for opportunities outside of the WNBA; Brittney Griner went to Russia because the sad reality is that WNBA players are forced to go overseas to seek extra pay during the offseason.
In the 2020-2021 season, Kevin Durant was the highest-paid NBA player on the United States Men’s Olympic Basketball Team, with a salary of around $39.1 million. In the same year, for the United States Olympic women’s basketball team, four WNBA players – Sue Bird, Skylar Diggins-Smith, Diana Taurasi and Brittney Griner – earned just $221,500. Unfortunately, they were also the highest paid players in the league. For a deeper comparison, the total value for the men’s Olympic team was $240.4 million, while for the women it was a meager $1.9 million.
The unfortunate development here, which Griner agent Lindsay Kagawa Colas wrote about in his platform for the LA Timesis that outside of the WNBA and its fans, Brittney was largely invisible to the public. That is, until it is detained by Russia.
“It shouldn’t take the detention of a professional athlete for us to have a serious discussion about pay inequality in sports, especially the WNBA,” said Alex Windsor, CEO of Betting in the United States. “It should remain clear that there is an understanding of why the WNBA doesn’t have the revenue support that the NBA does, but that fact doesn’t make the issue any less important.”
As we’ve seen with NCAA March Madness and the investment from students, colleges and fans, women’s basketball can be hugely popular if it gets the airtime and media attention it deserves. . Colas also wrote in his editorial on sponsorships, saying, “Sponsorship dollars paid directly to WNBA stars would provide the quickest and most direct route to dramatically reducing the number of players going overseas for supplement their income. This notion is at the root of the problem. We need to improve the situation for female athletes here at home so that they don’t have to go abroad for extra income.
Currently, Turkey and Russia offer the most lucrative opportunities for female basketball players, so it’s no surprise that Brittney Griner (or any other WNBA star) is looking for opportunities elsewhere in the offseason. It is also important to note that there is no quick fix for this problem. Sue Bird, a 20-year veteran of the WNBA in her final season and a top candidate for the Naismith Hall of Fame, believes the WNBA should receive the same media coverage and the sponsorship opportunities that the NBA does. Once that happens, they can start to see an increase in league player salaries.
“In recent years, we have seen an increased partnership between sports betting apps such as Draft Kings and FanDuel, and professional sports leagues,” Windsor says. “The media coverage mentioned by Sue Bird could be amplified with a greater focus on sports betting.”
The main theme of this issue is that of visibility. The WNBA wants the same opportunities as the NBA, opportunities that allow tens, if not hundreds, of millions of fans to watch their games across the country and around the world. Some small businesses, such as the new The sports bra in Portland, Oregon, have taken the initiative to support women’s sport. This is a great example of how the community can do their part to make a difference, start turning the tide, and level the playing field.
It is extremely unfortunate that something like this had to happen in order for the public to have a serious conversation about the preventable circumstances that female athletes often face. Still, it’s just as important to have that conversation now and start implementing the changes that matter. As Colas mentioned at the end of his op-ed, the most important thing that can come out of this conversation is that no one is going through what Brittney Griner had to endure.