It’s no secret that WNBA players know how to get their message out when they want to. Just look at how it was among the first major sports leagues to openly support Black Lives Matter and also very publicly backed Senator Raphel Warnock in his election against former Atlanta Dream owner Kelly Loeffler. This history made players’ silence on the Russian arrest of Phoenix Mercury center Brittney Griner puzzling to outsiders. However, for those of us who follow women’s basketball year round, it was clear this was intentional. Yahoo reports, players decided early in Griner’s detainment that staying quiet would be best for Brittney.
In February, Griner was arrested at Moscow’s Sheremetyevo International Airport, when police say they allegedly found vape cartridges containing hash oil in her luggage. Though American citizens were advised to leave Russia ahead of the country’s invasion of Ukraine, Griner was rejoining her Russian team, UMMC Ekaterinburg, because WNBA players make most of their money playing overseas. This is a point that frustrates Seattle Storm superstar Breanna Stewart, who makes over $1 million playing in Russia.
“The big thing is the fact that we have to go over there. It was BG [Brittney Griner], 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.”
Griner’s legal team, Texas congress Colin Allred (D-TX) and the U.S. State Department have all been working to get the two-time Olympic Gold Medalist released, but fractured diplomatic relations between the United States and Russia are making things difficult. Further complicating matters is the fact that Griner’s detention was recently extended to May 19. The only good news in this situation is that she did finally get consular access to U.S. government officials and is reportedly “in good condition.”
Though they can’t speak out publicly, her fellow players are finding other ways to support their teammate and friend. Stewart is working with The Phoenix Rescue Mission, a charity Griner has been involved with for years.
“While BG is away I wanted to support her and her charitable efforts and do what I can from an off-the-court standpoint to help her and her family,” Stewart said.
While Brittney is the one being detained, it’s not lost on Minnesota Lynx forward Angel McCoughtry that any of them could have ended up in the same place.
“People are saying she’s 6-foot-9, she’s different. It’s really not about that,” said USA Basketball player McCoughtry on Wednesday at the team’s training camp in Minneapolis. “It could have been any of us.”