MICHEL MARTIN, HOST:
The WNBA is a few weeks into its new season, but it is missing one of its biggest stars. Brittney Griner, center for the Phoenix Mercury, WNBA champion and a two-time Olympic gold medalist, has been held in Russian detention since February, when she was on her way to play with the Russian Premier League during the WNBA offseason. Russian customs officials allegedly found vape cartridges containing oil derived from cannabis in her luggage at the airport. If convicted, she could face a maximum penalty of up to 10 years in prison.
Griner is considered one of the best, if not the best female basketball player of all time. Her list of accolades and firsts is long. Initially, WNBA and NBA players were advised not to bring much attention out of concern that Russia could position her as a political prisoner in its feud with the West amid the ongoing war in Ukraine. That changed earlier this month when the U.S. State Department classified Griner as quote-unquote “wrongfully detained.”
We wanted to know more about this situation, so we called Nneka Ogwumike. She is the president of the WNBA Players Association, and she plays for the LA Sparks. And she is with us now. Nneka Ogwumike, thanks so much for joining us.
NNEKA OGWUMIKE: Thank you for having me.
MARTIN: Do you feel that the administration – that the Biden administration is doing enough?
OGWUMIKE: We want to see more action. Obviously, we didn’t want it to get to 93 days for her to be locked up in another country. But we have to – you know, we have to respect the process while also understanding the pressing matter in which we have one of ours who’s just not here. You know, it’s just not right to start the season without her. And no member of our global sporting community should ever be used as what seems to be a political pawn at this point. And we’re imploring upon the White House to do everything possible to bring her back.
MARTIN: I want to remind people about why Griner was in Russia to begin with. It’s that, you know, a number of WNBA athletes play internationally in the WNBA offseason to supplement their WNBA salaries. It’s been reported that Griner was making about $1,000,000 per year playing in Russia, which is roughly four times her U.S. salary. This past Wednesday, a deal was announced to pay the U.S. women’s and men’s national soccer teams equally. And I’m just wondering if this is causing some feelings among the WNBA about – I mean, it’s true, like, some of the men play internationally as well. But generally the biggest stars on …….