Multiple WNBA players in Russia are making plans to leave or seriously discussing the possibility after the invasion of Ukraine, agents told ESPN.
Women's basketball players spend their WNBA offseasons playing overseas, where they make significantly more money than stateside. Some of the game's biggest names play in Russia, where deep-pocketed team owners pay good money and provide professional athlete-level perks.
Agents asked that their players' names not be used for safety reasons.
"For me, it's way past 'considering' leaving," longtime agent Mike Cound, who worked for the U.S. government during the Gulf War, told ESPN on Sunday. "I've been on the phone with two players in the past few minutes working out flights. It's really urgent now in terms of there being a dwindling number of flights leaving Russia, and they are going to be hard to get real soon. They are probably fine if they stay put, but if things get worse, that may not be the case. My idea is, 'Get them out now if we can.' And if we can't, we get them to hunker down and stay safe."
The European seasons typically run through April or May, and some WNBA players return to their teams in the U.S. late. The 2022 WNBA season tips off May 6.
These breaking news posts hit a little different when you’re currently living in Russia 😭
WNBA, WNBPA in communication with players
The WNBA and WNBA Players Association released statements last week saying they have been in communication with players in Russia. The WNBA said in a statement the "few" players who were in Ukraine "are no longer in the country."
"The league has also been in contact with WNBA players who are in Russia, either directly or through their agents. We will continue to closely monitor the situation," the WNBA said.
The WNBPA said in a statement:
"We have been in constant communication with our members and their representatives for several weeks, and we'll continue to stay abreast of current events. We are the union for the 144 all year round, and their safety is the highest concern.
"We shared information and advisories from credible news sources and urged them to make a plan that included connecting with embassies/consulates and the U.S. State Department's SMART traveler program."
The U.S. Embassy & Consulates in Russia issued an advisory on Sunday for U.S. citizens to consider "departing Russia immediately via commercial options still available." The travel advisory is a level 4 "do not travel." Airlines are canceling flights in and out of Russia and countries have closed airspace to Russian airlines. In response, Russia has banned flights for airlines of 36 countries.
The U.S. State Department began urging American citizens to leave Ukraine last month as Russia built up its military on the border with Ukraine. Many male players in the country felt torn between sacrificing their primary source of income and fleeing a potential war zone.
Where are Russian forces surrounding Ukraine? Check out this explainer from Yahoo Immersive to find out.