It is fitting that I continue to talk about Brittney Griner as we move through Women’s History Month.
But for me, the saga continues and I am here to say to Brittney Griner, and to the world, unequivocally, that it ain’t over until it’s over, and, believe me—it ain’t over.
The Griner saga continues. In addition to becoming the poster child and advocate for bringing other U.S. prisoners home from Russia and overseas, Griner must now champion an even bigger battle on her home-front: the reality of gender pay inequality for women athletes in the WNBA and beyond.
Gender Sports Pay Inequality and Overseas Second Jobs
Let’s face the facts—Griner was playing in Russia every year for a decade simply because her WNBA pay as a top woman athlete was inadequate. She did NOT make a “livable wage” according to the standards of athletic pay scales. How shameful for the American sports industry that in the 21st Century, and after almost three decades of Title IX, gender pay inequality still presists.
Indeed, while Griner seems clearly happy to play for the Phoenix Mercury team at the quoted $165,000, which may be the best the team can do (https://www.foxnews.com/sports/mercury-post-first-video-brittney-griner-uniform-re-signing-wnba-star ), in my humble opinion, it is simply NOT GOOD ENOUGH.
What is the message we send to the world about sports in one of the most economically advanced democratic countries in the world when women athletes are paid so much less than men that they must hire out labor out overseas to survive?
While today’s professional men athletes receive multiple year contracts worth millions AND can expect to get paid handsomely for sponsoring products (Dairy Queen, Subway—to name a few businesses that immediately come to mind), women rarely appear in such marketing endorsement, and when they do, their compensation is far less than the men on the same commercials.
No Joke, the Numbers Speak for Themselves
If you take Griner’s salary of $165,000 and add more zeros, the gender pay disparities are startling and jump out at you.
According to Hoop Salaries (NBA Salaries | HoopsHype ) by teams, men basketball players presently earn 1000 (yep one thousand) times more than Griner will make this year.
They also are guaranteed multiple year contracts, whereas she has only a guarantee of one year!
Where is the decency and equality in this fact?
Moreover, many athletes earn beyond these reported salaries with endorsements and sponsorships rarely available for Black women in particular. But these outside jobs increasingly come with accountability.
What I consider to be Griner’s inadequate athletic compensation stems from cultural beliefs and practices rooted in America’s history of enslaving Black people, the abuse of women in general and especially Black women, and this country’s historic annihilation of Indigenous people.
These racialized and gendered practices are historic and emanate from White Supremacy undergirded by patriarchal, male-centered beliefs that non-white people are subhuman and that women, who gave birth to them, are “the weaker sex” and “second-class citizens.”
In effect, the inequality that exists today formally and informally, in individual behavior, in historic laws, and institutional policies and practices, are based upon a flaw logic that white men are superior to anyone who walks this earth. This fallacy is at the heart of the race concept, the practices of racism, sexism, White Supremacy, Jim Crow, segregation, anti-Blackness, anti-Black police violence, and more. All were created to ensure the sustainability of these beliefs.
America Owes Brittney Griner
Griner does not have cushy reserves from billion-dollar endorsements like professional athletes. She is not Stephen Curry, Michael Jordan, or LeBron James, and certainly not SKanye once had –and lost. .
The path for Black women athletes has been a troubled one. They have had to endure body and hair shaming. Links to article about Rutgers basketball players
For sure, Griner deserves “hazard pay” from the United States government. After all, her case got caught in a global political chess game between Russia, the United States, and the Ukraine war.
To me, it seemed that U.S. Department of State highjacked Griner’s case in order to gain the release of Paul Whelan, imprisoned for espionage, after they had botched his release in an earlier exchange. (hyperlink)
While the spotlight on Griner opened up new possibilities for America to redeem itself in the Whelan case—it also exposed the reality of a Black person’s story once again being decentered and sacrificed to save a white person. History repeats itself.
Much Deserved Honor for Griner: NAACP Image Award Accolades
Griner’s appearance (sans her signature dreadlock and with wife Cheryl) at the NAACP ((https://www.theroot.com/brittney-cherelle-griner-make-emotional-appearance-at-1850163383), speaks to how her story has inspired so many nationally and globally. The moving standing ovation she received from the star-studded audience was well deserved.
Largely, because Griner has not positioned herself not as a victim, but as a champion and voice for other Americans wrongfully detained (https://www.npr.org/2023/02/26/1159587297/brittney-griner-naacp-image-awards-wrongful-detentions ). Given the road she has chosen—to be a voice for the voiceless—Griner deserves compensation.
But this is not the only battle she needs to must fight; she has to use her voice and experiences to bring attention to the urgent need for gender pay equality in sports and that should be in the forefront. It is long overdue.
©2023 Irma McClaurin
Irma McClaurin (https://linktr.ee/dr.irma /https://twitter.com/mcclaurintweets) is Insight News’ Culture and Education Editor, a columnist, and a commentator on “The Conversation With Al McFarlane” (https://bit.ly/TCWAM). A past president of Shaw University and former Associate VP at the University of Minnesota and founding ED of UROC, this activist anthropologist was named “Best in the Nation Columnist” by the Black Press of America in 2015. She is a recipient of the 2021 American Anthropological Association’s Engaged Anthropology Award and is an award-winning writer as well as a former Fulbright Specialist. A collection of her columns, JustSpeak: Reflections on Race, Culture & Politics in America, is forthcoming in 2023 and she is working on a book-length manuscript entitled “Lifting Zora Neale Hurston from the Shadows of Anthropology.
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