Commentary: Why Brittney Griner was in Russia, and what it says about women’s sports in the U.S.
LINDSAY KAGAWA COLAS
I woke up to the phone ringing just after 5 a.m. in Portland. My colleague was calling from the East Coast. “Lindz, it’s BG. She’s been taken into custody at the airport. She has her phone and can text.” Brittney Griner, who had spent several WNBA offseasons starring for UMMC Ekaterinburg, an elite Russian basketball club team, had been traveling back to Ekaterinburg from the U.S., connecting in Moscow when she was detained. She was now in the custody of Russian officials at the airport and, for the next several hours, I tracked her location on my phone and continued texting her, trying to stay with her as long as I could.
Staying with her was what Brittney had asked me to do when I started representing her as her sports agent right out of college in 2013. Though she was projected to be the No. 1 pick overall in the WNBA draft, the most important conversation we had early on wasn’t about endorsements or fame. From my experience in the business, I knew that success on the court for women has never been enough to guarantee women similar commercial rewards to men. Only women athletes regarded as conventionally beautiful by a Western standard, “feminine” — or simply perceived to be straight, who were both white and often less important, successful at winning, got any hint of endorsement opportunities. The WNBA and its players, in all of their intersectional power and beauty, are still waiting for society to catch up.
Fighting to shift how the marketplace views and values women athletes has been at the center of my entire career as a sports agent. For Brittney, the most important things I could do to support her career and ensure she maximized opportunity were 1) to make her as much money on the court, as quickly as possible and 2) to always tell her the truth, do my best to protect her and be there for her, no matter what. Before that February morning, that included advising her (along with several other clients) to take advantage of the opportunity to play in Russia for the highest paying team in the world. Ever since that day, it has meant working furiously to try to summon every resource I can to help her, so that I can keep another promise I made after she was formally charged and minutes before she was led away. “BG,” I said, “We love you. We are here. Be brave. We will get you home.”
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