For 294 days, superstar WNBA player and Olympic champion Brittney Griner found herself in the midst of a political nightmare. She was detained in Russia on Feb. 17, 2022, on charges that suggested she brought vape cartridges mixed with a small amount of Cannabis oil into the country. A week later, Russia invaded Ukraine, triggering United States sanctions and complicating efforts to bring our girl home.
Interpreting to Russian Law, Griner’s punishment did not fit the crime. Griner was sentenced to nine years in prison and placed in a remote penal colony 200 miles southeast of Moscow to serve her time. She eventually was deemed “wrongfully detained” by the United States government and it became abundantly clear that she would only be released under unique circumstances.
After months of negotiations, the United States was able to obtain Griner’s release in the form of a prisoner swap. Our government agreed to send Viktor Bout, a notorious Russian Arms dealer, in exchange for Griner. The move garnered national attention, as many people question why the U.S. was willing to make this deal at the expense of letting a very dangerous man go and leaving another fellow American behind. The United States originally requested the release of both Griner and Paul Whalen, another wrongfully detained American. Whalen has been in Russian custody since Dec. 2018 on espionage charges, but the request to get both he and Griner released at the same time was unsuccessful.
On Dec. 8, 2022, Griner was released into U.S. custody, putting an end to the nearly 10 month fiasco. The deal is the second such exchange with Russia in the last eight months, after Trevor Reed was released on April 27, 2022. The former U.S. Marine was held in Russia since Aug. 2019, but was released in exchange for Russian National, Konstantin Yaroshenko, who was serving a 20-year drug sentence.
Despite the United States government publicly stating it does not value one wrongful detainee over another and that charges influence release negotiations, people are still choosing to find fault in the governments handling of Griner. Backlash surrounding Brittney’s arrival home has spewed in the form of front page articles, social media think pieces, and hateful comments dedicated to wishing she was left behind.
The backlash and comments reduced her to merely a black, female, basketball player but what about Brittney the person? A daughter, wife, friend, teammate and ambassador of the Women’s National Basketball Association (WNBA) in its purest form.
The truth of the matter remains that Brittney Griner is one of our own.
She is an American that deserved to return home despite the circumstances. Her release should not take away from other wrongfully detained Americans around the world. They too deserve to come home, and god-willing, will have the opportunity to do so in the future. Until then, we look forward to hearing more from Brittney in the coming months and watching her return to the WNBA’s Phoenix Mercury for the 2023 season.