Brittney Griner’s Supporters On What It’s Like for Women in the WNBA

NPR’s Juana Summers speaks with Nadine Domond, head of women’s basketball at Virginia State University, about the work to bring attention to Brittney Griner’s case.


Basketball player Brittney Griner is a superstar. The six-foot-nine center for the Phoenix Mercury helped the team earn a championship in 2014. She has two gold Olympic medals to her name, and since mid-February, she has been detained in Russia on drug charges. Today in a court near Moscow, she denied any intent to break the law but pled guilty. Calls for her release are growing, and so is concern that the U.S. is not doing enough to advocate on her behalf. Nadine Domond is the head coach for women’s basketball at Virginia State University, and she is one of more than 1,000 Black women who signed a letter calling on President Biden to bring Griner home. She joins us now. Welcome.

NADINE DOMOND: Hi. Good afternoon, everyone.

SUMMERS: Nadine, I know you have met Brittney Griner in the past. What was your reaction to today’s news that she’s pled guilty?

DOMOND: Heartbroken. She could be sentenced up to 10 years in Russian prison. That’s not – you know, that’s tough. I wouldn’t wish that on anyone. So I’m just keeping her in my prayers, you know, to give her the strength and the courage and the wisdom as she walks through this – you know, this valley. And us, myself and so many other supporters are just with her in spirit, trying to make sure she’s OK.

SUMMERS: For a long time, we did not hear much about Griner’s detention. And even now, many people feel like her case is not getting the attention that it should. Your letter speaks to that. Why do you think it has not gotten enough attention?

DOMOND: Because I think for many people, it’s like, what do you mean? She’s overseas. What is she doing overseas? Why is she going overseas? So there’s so many unanswered questions that many average Americans want to know. People don’t know that many former WNBA players or WNBA players work year-round. So she’s on her way, going to Russia to make another living, to continue her living. And to be detained on something that – to me, I don’t know their rules, but I know Brittney wouldn’t do anything to break the law on purpose. I know Brittney wouldn’t do anything to step outside the boundaries of what is expected of her.

She’s a patriot, played for United States basketball, been on the Olympic team, had done so much for this country. And, you know, if it was LeBron, everybody would be in an uproar because they have a connection with LeBron. They have an idea. They have a touch or feel. And because Brittney Griner doesn’t have that with so many Americans, maybe that’s the reason why we don’t have that uproar as anybody else.

SUMMERS: And we should just speak plainly about this. Many female professional basketball players go abroad to play because of the wide chasm in salary disparities between women who play the sport and their male counterparts.

DOMOND: Yes, and it’s true. But you have to understand that was a way of living for a very long time until the WNBA came. And like anything else, that – it takes time for anything to grow, just like the NFL, the NBA. So I think eventually the WNBA will get to a point that young ladies don’t have to go overseas to support themselves. But still, again, many young ladies like myself – we played in a league. And that – you know, the following September, you’re overseas to continue your lifestyle, to continue your job.

So with that being said, that’s what’s going on with her. If she was probably in the States and she could have made the money that she needs to make to – you know, to continue her lifestyle, to support her family, we wouldn’t even be having this conversation. But because she had to go to Russia, which is one of the premium markets when you go overseas, and now you’re in this situation because you’re going to work, you get arrested and you’re not able to come back home, it’s just unfair, just unfair.

SUMMERS: Do you think that other professional basketball players, especially women, Black women, gay women like Griner, will look at what happened here and think twice about deciding to play in a place like Russia?

DOMOND: Absolutely, absolutely. I think just going overseas in general and in the state of so many changes – it’s a fluid, changing, constant change of news with so many world policies and everything. I think you have to really think about the consciousness of, is it worth it? Can I do it? And is it possible? Is it safe? So all those things go in your head. It is not as – like, you know, when I was coming out of school, it was exciting. Like, oh, I’m going a chance to play overseas. I’m going to go play in France, or I’m going to go play in Israel. Right now with the state of affairs, with so many things going on, I think it makes you say, I might want to sit this one out.

SUMMERS: What would you tell Brittney Griner if you could talk to her today?

DOMOND: I think the first thing I would do – I’d give her a big hug. I’d probably pray with her, you know, pray that God, you know, take care of this and lead this. And also, you know, stay strong. Stay encouraged. Everybody here back at home is supporting you, praying for you. And whatever you need, we have. You know, we’re going to try to support you however we can help and support and push this along to bring you back home. Let’s do that. Who do we need to speak to and get in those rooms so we can bring you home? We need you home. We miss you.

SUMMERS: We’ve been speaking to Nadine Domond, head of women’s basketball at Virginia State University. Thank you so much for being here.

DOMOND: Thank you so much for having me.


Image: Christian Petersen/Getty Images