Brittney Griner is finally getting her flowers. After being wrongfully detained and spending 10 months in a Russian prison for possession of hashish oil while playing overseas, the WNBA star is home and being honored as one of Time’s 100 most influential people. In a write-up penned by Sue Bird, Griner is applauded not only her for strength, but also the ripple effect her story has had within the athletic community and beyond.
“BG’s wrongful detainment brought attention to issues like the inequities in pay for women athletes, which sometimes compel us to put ourselves in dangerous situations to maximize our financial worth.”
“Brittney Griner’s story represents so much. First off, it’s about resilience. BG spent nearly 10 months in Russian prison, wrongfully detained, but never lost hope or her sense of humor,” Bird writes for Time. “She was BG, through and through, throughout her horrible ordeal.”
“But underneath this story of inner strength is so much more,” Bird continues. The five-time Olympic gold medalist credits Griner’s story for shining a light on the pay gap between male and female athletes — a discrepancy that, in part, landed Griner on Russia’s UMMC Ekaterinburg team in the first place. “BG’s wrongful detainment brought attention to issues like the inequities in pay for women athletes, which sometimes compel us to put ourselves in dangerous situations to maximize our financial worth,” Bird writes.
It’s likely that Griner chose to play overseas during the off-season to make more money. WNBA players typically earn between $60,000 and $229,000, while NBA players can earn upward of $40 million. “[A]lmost half of the WNBA’s 144 players” went overseas during the 2022 off-season, according to an Associated Press report, with high-ranking athletes earning more than $1 million playing outside the US.
Not only did Griner’s detainment draw attention to the pay gap, but it also “brought to light the dozens of Americans wrongfully detained around the world” — namely Paul Whelan, another American detainee who has been in Russia for more than four years. Griner has continued to advocate for his release and others who have been wrongfully detained. “I hope you’ll join me in writing to Paul Whelan and continuing to advocate for other Americans to be rescued and returned to their families,” Griner wrote in a letter posted to Instagram, including Whelan’s contact information, shortly after she was released from prison.
If you witnessed Griner’s journey, then you know her release would not have been possible without fierce advocacy from her wife Cherelle Griner and members of the Black, WNBA, NBA, and LGBTQ+ communities.
Griner’s story, Bird says, “speaks to the power of the women who rallied around her — Black women, members of the LGBTQ+ community, our WNBA community — and who made certain her name was never forgotten, that she’d return home. These are the women who get sh-t done.”
Brittney is expected to release a book in spring 2024 detailing more about her experience in Russia. In the meantime, she’s back playing with the Phoenix Mercury and hopefully celebrating all of her accomplishments.
“Knowing BG, she’ll focus on the joy and share it generously. She’s back, and I can’t wait to hug her when I see her. #WeAreBG,” Bird says.