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Brittney Griner’s USA Basketball teammates addressed her detention in Russia on Wednesday as the players were in a training camp just ahead of the start of the 2022 WNBA season.
Angel McCoughtry and Breanna Stewart both spoke about the situation. McCoughtry signed with the Minnesota Lynx in the offseason and Stewart is preparing for another run with the Seattle Storm.
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“People are saying she’s 6-foot-9, she’s different. It’s really not about that,” McCoughtry said. “It could have been any of us.”
Stewart pointed to the discrepancy in salaries as the reason why WNBA players may feel like they have to play overseas in the offseason. A supermax salary in the WNBA could earn a player just over $221,000 for the regular season, which runs from May to October.
Players have the option to stay in the U.S. and do other media work in the offseason but some choose to go to other countries, like Russia, where they could earn around $1 million or more.
“The big thing is the fact that we have to go over there. It was BG, but it could have been anybody,” Stewart said. “WNBA players need to be valued in their country and they won’t have to play overseas.”
While the salaries are nice, the dangers are real.
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Stewart’s teammate Sue Bird played in Russia at points during her illustrious basketball career. She played for WBC Spartak in the Russian Premier League, a club that was sponsored by former KGB spy Shabtai Kalmanovich. He was assassinated in 2009.
Bird recently told CBS News the money that was offered was life-changing.
“Absolutely. Like, I’m a millionaire because of it. And, honestly, I think the more the league grows, the more coverage we get maybe players won’t have to go overseas because they’ll be making enough money here and I think that is ultimately the goal,” Bird said, adding she sees bigger salaries for WNBA players in the future.
Griner was arrested in February at a Moscow airport for allegedly possessing vape cartridges containing oils derived from cannabis. The Phoenix Mercury star was detained and has been held ever since while first reports of her arrest didn’t come to light until earlier this month – days after Russia began its invasion of Ukraine.
State Department spokesperson Ned Price said last week that an official from the U.S. Embassy was able to see Griner recently and she was said to be “in good condition.” The Russian government allowed the U.S. to give consular access to Griner weeks after her arrest was reported.
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WNBA players have mostly been quiet about Griner’s release, which may be deliberate as officials from the U.S. government and the WNBA work behind the scenes.
“Everyone’s getting the strategy of say less and push more privately behind the scenes,” WNBA Commissioner Cathy Engelbert told the New York Daily News on March 18. “It’s the strategy you get from the State Department and administration. It’s our No. 1 priority in talking with her agent and strategists.”
Separately, the WNBA said in a statement on March 17: “In close collaboration with U.S. government agencies, elected officials, individuals and organizations with expertise in these matters, and Brittney Griner’s representatives and family, we continue to work diligently to get her safely home to the United States. This continues to be a complex situation that is extremely difficult for Brittney, her family, and all who are hoping for a swift resolution. Our number one priority remains her safe return.”
Meadowlark Media’s Kate Fagan also provided context on March 5 about why Griner’s arrest wasn’t made public right away.
Griner could face up to 10 years in a Russian prison if convicted.
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Her detention was extended until May 19, according to Russian media. The WNBA season starts May 6.
The Associated Press contributed to this report.