WNBA Players Refusing to Compete in Russia This Offseason

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Brittney Griner has been wrongfully detained in Russia for 215 days. With BG’s imprisonment at the forefront of their minds and hearts, WNBA players are opting out of competing in Russia this off-season. Typically attracted to Russian leagues by the combination of high salaries and valuable resources and amenities, it has become evident that the costs of going to Russia this season outweigh the benefits. Nearly a dozen WNBA players competed in Russia last year; none are returning.

MVP runner-up Breanna Stewart played alongside Griner in Russia on UMMC Ekaterinburg.

“Honestly, my time in Russia has been wonderful,” Stewart told The Guardian. “But especially with BG still wrongfully detained there, nobody’s going to go there until she’s home. I think that you know, now, people want to go overseas, and if the money is not much different, they want to be in a better place.”

Stewart is headed to Turkey to play for Fenerbahçe this offseason. 

Joining Stewart in their choice to not return to Russia are Jonquel Jones of Finals runners-up Connecticut Sun, Courtney Vandersloot of the Chicago Sky, and Emma Meeseman of the Chicago Sky. Vandersloot will suit up in Hungary, while Jones and Meeseeman both compete in Turkey.

Although she admits her club treated her well, and she formed strong relationships while in Russia, Vandersloot put it plainly:

“The thing about it is, we were treated so well by our club and made such strong relationships with those people, I would never close the door on that,” Vandersloot said. “The whole situation with BG makes it really hard to think that it’s safe for anyone to go back there right now.”

Once again, as long as their sister and teammate are wrongfully imprisoned, Russia is off the table as an off-season destination for WNBA players. In addition to vets like Stewart, Jones, Vandersloot, and Meeseman refusing to return to Russia, young players are electing for other overseas opportunities. Rhyne Howard, the 2022 Rookie of the Year, chose to play in Italy, stating that “everyone’s going to be a bit cautious seeing as this situation is happening”.

Following the 2020-21 season, more than 60 percent of the WNBA’s rostered players went overseas during the offseason. Traveling overseas to supplement their salaries takes players away from their homes and families and puts them at injury and safety risk. With plans to play a record-high 40 games next season and increase postseason bonus pools of money, the League continues to step toward making staying home a possibility.

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