MSNBC Blames Unequal Pay in U.S. for Brittney Griner Imprisonment in Russia

WNBA star and two-time Olympic gold medalist Brittney Griner is escorted to a courtroom for a hearing, in Khimki just outside Moscow, Russia, Wednesday, July 27, 2022. American basketball star Brittney Griner returned Wednesday to a Russian courtroom for her drawn-out trial on drug charges that could bring her 10 …
Evgenia Novozhenina/Pool Photo via AP

The detention of WNBA star Brittney Griner in Russia is a result of her having to travel there because she was unable “to make equal pay here in the United States,” according to an MSNBC segment that highlighted the “disparity in American life” as WNBA players are paid less than NBA players on average.

Appearing on MSNBC’s The Cross Connection with Tiffany Cross on Saturday, former State Department spokesperson and former Obama White House Senior Director Nayyera Haq discussed Secretary of State Antony Blinken’s recent phone call with Russian Foreign Minister Sergey Lavrov concerning a potential release of Brittney Griner.

Asked about Lavrov’s suggestion of returning to “quiet diplomacy” on the issue of prisoner swaps, Haq claimed the Russian foreign minister was simply “trying to buy some more time to do Putin’s bidding.” 

Arguing that Griner’s imprisonment was a political move in light of Russia’s invasion of Ukraine, Haq claimed the amount of THC allegedly in Griner’s possession was relatively negligible.

 “Even if she did have that — the amount of THC that she had is less than what people in Russia have and only serve a maximum [of] two months,” she said. 

 “So she’s already served more time than what is criminally recognized within Russia, so it’s a political arrest and Putin’s going to get what he can out of it, including a guilty plea from her and potentially an arms dealer in exchange that will help him in his global ambitions,” she added.

 When asked her opinion on the State Department’s handling of the situation, the former State Department senior advisor argued that Griner’s imprisonment is quite different from other political hostages.

“Brittaney Griner is a little different because she was a celebrity in Russia as well — very high profile — and we know the only reason that she was in Russia is because she was not able to make equal pay here in the United States that NBA stars would make,” Haq said.

“So that points to the disparity in American life in a way we typically don’t see when it comes to wartime hostages,” she added.

Haq was then asked about the impact of the U.S. government negotiating with Russia and whether it puts Americans worldwide at risk.

Deeming it “concerning,” the former Obama aide claimed that, on the other hand, other countries are now issuing warnings about traveling to the U.S. “because of our gun control problem.”

“So we have to recognize that we here also have our challenges that make other countries wary about spending tourist dollars here,” she said.

Earlier in the month, Haq called to “fix” the domestic problem that brought Griner to Russia to begin with.

“#BrittanyGriner did what she had to do to move forward in an awful process as a political hostage,” Haq wrote.

In the same thread, she describes Griner as a “known public figure in Russia, where she makes more money than she ever made in the US.”

“The star WNBA player makes less than an NBA starter,” she wrote. “Fix that problem! Go see @WNBA games, they’re FUN.”

In another broadcast this month, Haq explained that while visitors to Russia are warned to respect the local rules, “the whole reason she was there is because she as the star of the WNBA makes $250,000 a year.”

“She makes less than a starting player on the NBA,” she said. “So there is a domestic aspect to this that we can rectify.”

To those fighting to free Griner by talking about her case and bringing it into the spotlight, Haq suggested their activism “doesn’t solve the problem that we face here at home of pay disparity, discrimination.” 

“Start going to WNBA games if you really care about it,” she suggested. “They’re a lot of fun.”

“It’s a great different style of play,” Haq added. “But we’ve gotta put our money where our mouth is if we want to truly support female athletes here at home, not just when they become political hostages.”

Griner was arrested and jailed in Russia in February for breaking the country’s drug laws when airport officials found a vape cartridge in her luggage infused with CBD oils. She was charged with possession of illegal drugs and this week pleaded guilty to possession but said she did not intentionally break the country’s strict drug laws.

However, several days before her guilty plea, Griner sent a letter to the Biden White House pleading for Biden to use his power to free her from her Russian jail cell.

In her letter, Griner wrote in part, “On the 4th of July, our family normally honors the service of those who fought for our freedom, including my father, who is a Vietnam war veteran. It hurts thinking about how I usually celebrate this day because freedom means something completely different to me this year.”

However, earlier, Griner told the sports media, “I honestly feel we should not play the national anthem during our season. I think we should take that much of a stand.”

Even if the league decided to play the anthem, Griner said she was going to stand with others against the country anyway.

“I’m going to protest regardless. I’m not going to be out there for the national anthem,” she said. “If the league continues to want to play it, that’s fine. It will be all season long, I’ll not be out there. I feel like more are going to probably do the same thing. I can only speak for myself.”

Follow Joshua Klein on Twitter @JoshuaKlein.

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