WNBA All-Star Brittney Griner was arrested last month at a Moscow airport after Russian authorities said a search of her luggage revealed vape cartridges.
The Russian Customs Service said Saturday that the cartridges were identified as containing oil derived from cannabis, which could carry a maximum penalty of 10 years in prison.
“We are aware of the situation with Brittney Griner in Russia and are in close contact with her, her legal representation in Russia, her family, her teams, and the WNBA and NBA,” Griner’s agent, Kagawa Colas, said. “As this is an ongoing legal matter, we are not able to comment further on the specifics of her case but can confirm that as we work to get her home, her mental and physical health remain our primary concern.”
The 31-year-old Griner, a seven-time All-Star for the Phoenix Mercury, has also played in Russia since 2014.
Griner’s arrest sparked a conversation in the U.S. about why she plays professionally in Russia. Many on social media pointed to higher salaries for athletes who play abroad.
This post on Facebook claimed Griner was playing in Russia because, “the WNBA still only pays their top tier players $20 an hour.”
Do star WNBA players like Brittney Griner get paid $20 an hour?
No, top-tier WNBA players like Brittney Griner aren’t paid $20 an hour – their salaries are higher than that.
WHAT WE FOUND
The average rate of pay for WNBA players, including top earners like all-star Brittney Griner, is higher than $20 an hour, according to the league’s collective bargaining agreement and an online database of professional athlete salaries.
For the sake of comparison, $20 an hour is $41,600 annually, based on a standard 52-week year in which an employee works 40 hours per week.
According to the current WNBA collective bargaining agreement, the max base salary that a player could receive during the most recent 2021 season, not including bonuses, was $221,450. According to athlete pay database spotrac.com, Griner was one of seven players to make the league’s max salary.
Based on the same standard 52 week year, Griner's hourly rate would be $106.47. And the WNBA season is much shorter, making Griner’s hourly rate based solely on time spent in-season even higher.
VERIFY also did the math for lower paid players.
According to a 2020 WNBA announcement about the collective bargaining agreement, the average salary for a WNBA player is nearly $130,000.
By the same calculations, even players making the league’s average salary would clock $62.50 an hour over the course of the calendar year, more than triple the Facebook post’s claim of $20 an hour. Again, this would be higher when divided by only the time spent in-season.
Griner does, however, make more money playing abroad than she does in the WNBA. Russia has been a popular destination for WNBA players like Brittney Griner over the past two decades because of the money they can make playing there in the winter.
With top players earning more than $1 million, Griner, Breanna Stewart, Diana Taurasi, Sue Bird and Jonquel Jones have been willing to spend their offseason playing far from home.
Russian sports leagues have been able to pay top players these high salaries because some of the teams are funded by government municipalities while others are owned by oligarchs who care more about winning championships and trophies than being profitable.
More than a dozen WNBA players were playing in Russia and Ukraine this winter, including league MVP Jones and Courtney Vandersloot and Allie Quigley of the champion Chicago Sky. The WNBA confirmed Saturday that all players besides Griner had left both countries.
Almost half of the WNBA's 144 players were overseas this offseason, although stars Candace Parker, Bird, Chiney Ogwumike and Chelsea Gray opted to stay stateside.
The Associated Press contributed to this report.