Global superstar and U.S. citizen Brittney Griner has been detained by the Russian government for the past 83 days. She is being held on charges of drug smuggling due to the alleged possession of a vape cartridge with hash oil.
After close to three months, the story of Griner’s detainment is finally becoming common knowledge—but why did this take so damn long?
I have many thoughts into the why, but, first, who is Brittney Griner?
One of the top American athletes of this generation, she can easily be named as one of the greatest women to ever play the game of basketball. The first pick in the 2013 WNBA draft and seven-time all-star, Griner is an Olympic gold medalist (2016, 2020) who has won championships in college (2012) and professionally, both in the United States (2014) as well as in Russia (2015, 2016, 2017, 2018, 2019).
Some sources have said that Griner’s family, in coordination with the U.S. State Department, wanted to keep a “low profile” on her detainment as part of the strategy to free her (and to not give Putin additional leverage). WNBA legend, Lisa Leslie stated on a podcast that she was instructed to not make a “big fuss” on Griner’s arrest because they didn’t want her to be used a political pawn.
NEWS FLASH: SHE WAS (AND IS) BEING USED AS A POLITICAL PAWN.
“How can a US basketball star just vanish?”
Now, I can’t tell a family how to react or respond to an incident of this magnitude, and I don’t know the ins and outs of hostage or detainee negotiations. However, to not make a big fuss is just outright bullshit.
Could you imagine LeBron James or Kyrie Irving or Jayson Tatum being detained in another country with no fuss? Do you think the U.S. government, war or no war, would have taken this same quiet diplomacy approach?
Would the media have been so tight lipped?
Would Griner’s community be so silent?
We are currently in the middle of the NBA playoffs and hardly a tweet of support. Where are the signs in the stands? The “Free Brittney Griner” t-shirts worn by players acknowledging the detainment of their colleague? A press conference centered around the disappearance of one the most popular basketball players in the world?
Finally, just last night, NBA legend Chris Paul broke his silence, wearing a Brittney Griner shirt to the Phoenix Suns playoff game.
When asked about the shirt after the game Paul said: “This isn’t even just a NBA, WNBA thing, I think everybody wants her home, you know what I mean? She is a huge part of the community here. We all support her; just want to try to get her home as soon as possible. [Wearing the shirt] was all in support of BG. We miss her in our practice facility, day in and day out, we’re just trying to get her home.”
And, even though the WNBA finally commented after a prolonged silence, the NBA has still not made an official statement in support of Griner as of publication.
The public wasn’t even made aware of the story until several weeks after—in fact, the first article I came across was from the BBC with the headline: “Brittney Griner: How can a US basketball star just vanish?” That was March 16—an entire month after her arrest (and a couple weeks after Russia invaded Ukraine).
Now, I know I am not the first (and hopefully I won’t be the last), to speak to some of the potential reasons why Griner was abandoned by the U.S. government, ignored by the media, and seemingly forgotten by the public at large.
PAY GAP MATTERS
Griner being a woman matters because of pay disparities between WNBA and NBA players. The lowest paid WNBA player is making $60,471 a year, versus their male counterparts in the NBA who are making a league minimum $925,258 a year.
Griner is the sixth highest paid player in the WNBA and she will make $227,900 this year to play for the Phoenix Mercury. Griner’s teammate Diana Taurasi, the highest paid player in the WNBA, makes $228,084–only $194 more.
This, a big jump from Griner’s rookie contract in 2013 of $49,440.
In the NBA, conversely, 123 players made more than $10 million in the 2021 – 2022 season. And this is just salary—we are not getting into the additional income that comes from endorsements, where there is also a huge disparity between men and women.
Many WNBA players travel abroad to play globally in the off season to supplement their income. Russia, specifically, has offered players lucrative contracts to play only in Russia, while other top players join their teams during the WNBA off-season. Griner is one of those players and has been playing for UMMC Yekaterinburg in Russia since 2015, where she is able to pull in a million-dollar salary, and has helped the team win five consecutive Russian championships.
So, Griner is not only a high-profile player here in the states, she is also a high-profile player in the country that currently has her detained.
So, again, I ask, how are we not supposed to make a big fuss?
SEXUAL IDENTITY MATTERS
Griner’s sexual identity matters for a couple reasons. While homosexuality is legal in Russia, there is still a lot of anti-gay groups and anti-gay figures there. When the 2014 Winter Olympics were held in Sochi, many athletes, spectators, and community groups called for the assurance of the safety and equitable treatment of Queer athletes, while others called for a complete boycott.
In addition to Griner’s sexual identity, there is also something to be said about how she expresses herself. I would be remiss if I did not point out Griner being masc appearing/gender non-conforming. This is worth noting because there is no masking this part of her identity and because masc presenting/GNC women are often specifically targeted by authoritative figures.
As being masc presenting myself, I have experienced bigoted and harmful ideologies like, “you look like a man, so imma treat you like one.”
This can often lead to verbal, physical or sexual assault and there are plenty of GNC women who have been murdered for simply existing. My hope is that Brittney has not experienced any harsh or inhumane treatment, however, I worry.
I am dismayed, angered, and frustrated.
Just last week, the U.S. State Department publicly announced that Griner is being “wrongfully detained” and they are working to release her. It took them over 70 days to publicly state this. In those 70 days, billions of dollars of taxpayer money has been approved by Congress to fund Ukraine’s war with Russia.
Yet, the same U.S. government, so efficient when it comes to war, could not decide whether to declare Griner’s detainment to be “wrongful” and whether or not to fight to get her released. Griner is now facing up to 10 years in prison under the drug smuggling charges. Russia extended their investigation until May 19th, when they are slated to make an announcement about the case.
So, Griner and her loved ones continue to wait—quietly, with no “big fuss.”
One day after the government publicly stated that she was wrongfully detained, a former US marine, Trevor Reed, was released from Russian custody in a prisoner swap.
Griner’s team, the Phoenix Mercury, have not said much about her detainment, but recently announced they will honor Griner with a floor decal along with the rest of the league. The WNBA will also continue to pay Griner’s salary and offered their “full support” and said that their “main priority is her swift and safe return to the United States.”
This whole situation is NOT okay—this woman should be back home, in the states, with her family, her friends, and her wife. She should be here, leading the Phoenix Mercury into the 2022 WNBA season, which started last week.
I don’t trust the efforts.
I don’t trust the strategy.
I don’t trust that the government is being totally honest and transparent with her loved ones around their efforts and strategies.
I pray to God that I am wrong. I pray that Brittney will be released on May 19th. But my intuition tells me she will be charged and sentenced. And I write this knowing that if she was Tom Brady, Chris Paul, or Lindsey Vonn, she would be free.
[UPDATE (5/13/22): Brittney Griner’s detention was extended another month.]
So, there should be a “big” fucking “fuss” made until the day Brittney Griner comes home. More people should know what the fuck is going on. And Brittney Griner should know that people care about her, even if the media and government do not.
FREE BRITTNEY GRINER.