WNBA Player, Brittney Griner, has been unfairly detained in Russia


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Griner has been sentenced to 9 years in prison for drug smuggling charges.

Sinclair Richman

On Feb. 17, 2022, eight-time Women’s National Basketball Association (WNBA) All-Star, 2014 WNBA Champion and two-time Olympic gold medalist Brittney Griner was detained in Russia for having two vape cartridges with THC in them. 168 days later, she was sentenced to nine years in prison.

During the WNBA off-season, many WNBA players leave the country to play in international leagues across Europe and Asia, with some star players going to Russia. Amid the Russian invasion of Ukraine, all WNBA players playing in Ukraine were able to safely evacuate and leave from the danger presented. The players in Russia were following close behind. 

Griner was playing with UMMC Ekaterinburg in Russia, along with fellow WNBA All-Stars Jonquel Jones, Courtney Vandersloot and Emma Meesseman. Jones, Vandersloot and Meesseman were all able to get out of Russia safely.

Griner was detained on claims she had two vape cartridges containing less than a gram of hashish oil on Feb. 17, but this information wasn’t released to the public until March 5. She was at that time charged with smuggling drugs out of Russia 

The Phoenix Mercury, the team Griner plays for in the WNBA, put out a statement immediately, saying, “We are aware of and closely monitoring the situation with Brittney Griner in Russia. We remain in constant contact with her family, her representation, the WNBA and the NBA. We love and support Brittney and at this time our main concern is her safety, physical and mental health, and her safe return home.”

Obviously, Griner being detained impacts the people close to her, like family, friends and teammates. This is evident through some posts made on Instagram and other social media platforms.

Cherelle Griner, Brittney Griner’s wife, posted a picture, from the past, of her with Griner on Instagram on March 5, with the caption saying, “Thank you to everyone who has reached out to me regarding my wife’s safe return from Russia. Your prayers and support are greatly appreciated. I love my wife wholeheartedly, so this message comes during one of the weakest moments of my life.”

On July 7, Griner’s trial strated, and she pleaded guilty to drug charges. This was a smart move on her part because Russia’s courts have a 97% conviction rate, so she was likely going to be convicted either way, and by pleading guilty, she was more likely to get a lesser sentencing. 

Bilken tweeted after her plea, “We will not relent until Brittney, Paul Whelan, and all other wrongfully detained Americans are reunited with their loved ones.” Luckily, this means that her classification from the US as ‘wrongfully detained’ did not change, so the US will still do as much as they can to help her out.

On Aug. 4, Griner got sentenced to 9 years after being found guilty of drug smuggling charges. She was also fined one million rubles, which is about $16,700. President Biden made a statement saying, “Russia is wrongfully detaining Brittney. It’s unacceptable, and I call on Russia to release her immediately so she can be with her wife, loved ones, friends and teammates.” 

After the sentencing, there started to be talk about a prisoner swap. The swap would likely include Griner and Paul Whelan, a US Marine Veteran who was arrested in 2018 on claims of spying and sentenced to 16 years in Russian prison, both of whom are trying to return to the US. Griner is being used as a pawn for the Russians, which is clearly very unfair to her, as well as her family and friends, and anyone impacted by her.

On the Russian side, Viktor Bout is the top perosn Russia wants to bring back. Bout is a convicted arms dealer, who is currently sevring a 25-year prison scentence in the US for “Conspiracy to kill Americans, acquire and export anti-aircraft missiles, and provide material support to a terrorist organization.” The crimes Bout is accused of versus the crime Griner is accused of are not equal at all, and furthermore shows the ways Russia is using Griner for their own benefit, and taking away her humanity.

Comparing Griner to Audrey Lorber, it seems obvious Griner is being used by the Russian government, and should be released. Lorber was a 19 year old straight, white American in Russia for a family vacation, when she was arrested for bringing 19 grams of THC into Russia. Lorber was released after about two months in jail, and was fined just 15,000 rubles, about $235. Griner was found with only 0.7 grams of THC, but was sentenced to 9 years, and fined about $16,700 USD. This shows the racism Griner is likely facing from the criminal justice system in Russia.  

In Russia, racism and homophobia is common, with same-sex marriage being illegal. Griner is likely being discrimminated against because she is a well-known Black, gay woman. She was caught with less THC than Lorber, but was sentenced to much more time, and was fined more as well.

Griner’s impact on and off the court shouldn’t have to end this way. She should be brought home safely and as soon as possible. In the meantime, WNBA players, teams and fans continue to support Griner and her family through this difficult time.