Becky Hammon, a guard for the San Antonio Silver Stars of the WNBA, recently caused a row by agreeing to play for the Russian women’s team in the forthcoming Beijing Summer Games. Now, before you assume that she’s a treasonous ingrate and that this can’t possibly be a nuanced issue, let’s observe a few facts …
- Hammon wanted to play for the U.S. team but wasn’t initially offered an invitation to tryouts.
- Hammon has dual citizenship because she spends more than half the year playing for a pro team in Moscow.
- In September of last year, the U.S. expanded its pool of eligibles and offered Hammon the chance to compete for a spot, but by that point she had already committed to the Russian squad.
- She stood to lessen the value of her contract with CKSA if she didn’t agree to play for Russia. For comparison’s sake, Hammon makes $95,000 U.S. per year in the WNBA and almost $600,000 U.S. per year in Russia. As well, she stands to make six figures in bonus money if the Russians make it to the medal round. As Hammon herself said, “There’s nothing more American than taking advantage of an opportunity.”
Needless to say, not everyone agrees with Hammon’s decision:
“If you play in this country, live in this country, and you grow up in the heartland and you put on a Russian uniform,” Team USA coach Anne Donovan told ESPN, “you are not a patriotic person in my mind.”
Pointed stuff. Of course, if Team USA had wanted Hammon so badly, then they would’ve named her to the initial list of eligibles. They didn’t, and Hammon sought other opportunities. Hammon finished second in the WNBA MVP voting last season, but Team USA didn’t regard her as worthy of one of the 23 initial tryout spots. That’s their error, and their complaints ring hollow because of it.
As for fan outrage, it’s more understandable. If Hammon were, a, actually of Russian descent and, b, not saddling up with a nation whose relations with us are complicated (to put it charitably), then this wouldn’t be a story. But it is. Hammon had to know that when she agreed to play for Russia.
Calling her traitorous or unpatriotic is extreme, however. After all, what’s more fitting in this, the global economy, than exporting yourself? Ultimately, it’s a business decision, and in some ways that’s every bit as American as deficit spending and morbid obesity.
If nothing else, Ms. Hammon should be glad she’s not Polish.