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WNBA Commissioner Speaks Out On Players Choosing to Play Abroad

Admitting that a number of women basketball players play abroad to supplement their income, Cathy Engelbert promises their safety is a WNBA concern.

As the release of WNBA star and Olympic athlete Brittney Griner is celebrated, which occurred through a prisoner swap with international arms trader Viktor Bout, WNBA commissioner Cathy Engelbert addressed reporters about Griner.

Griner, who was imprisoned for 294 days, was detained at a Russian airport in February after officials claimed she had hashish oil in her luggage. Griner pleaded guilty in July but insisted that she had no intention of breaking the law. After a month-long trial, she was sentenced to nine years in a Russian penal colony in the Mordovia region on Aug. 4. The U.S. Department of State said the basketballer's trial was unfair and biased.

According to Sports Illustrated, Englebert discussed the WNBA's athletes who chose to play in Russia during the offseason. Engelbert called herself a "big advocate" for allowing players to make their own decisions; she also stated that the WNBA is "chipping away" at growing the league through "player marketing agreements" and other stars getting involved with broadcasting and coaching opportunities.

Pointing out some players' simultaneous careers, such as Sparks star Chiney Ogwumike's work with ESPN, Candace Parker's broadcasting career with Turner Sports, and Sabrina Ionescu joining Oregon's basketball staff as director of athletic culture, the commissioner explained that players have many options.

SI quoted Englebert saying, “We tripled the number of player-marketing agreements this year. You’re seeing players take advantage of opportunities and we’re certainly going to provide more opportunities to do things with the league in the offseason.”

Engelbert stated that the league would assist players with safety while playing internationally in places such as Russia, Turkey, China, Italy, Spain, or Germany.

“Players are going to do what they think is best for themselves … and we’re certainly here to help them think through security risks and things like that.”

According to Basketball Reference data for 2021-2022, the average NBA player earns $5.3 million annually. On the other hand, WNBA players earn an average of $130,000 per year. This means that the average NBA player makes 41 times more than the average WNBA player.

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