Brittany Griner, a seven-time WNBA All-Star and two-time WNBA Defensive Player of the Year, remains in Russian custody after being detained at Sheremetyevo International Airport in February. The Russian Federal Customs Service has claimed that vape cartridges containing marijuana-concentrated hash oil were found in Griner’s baggage.
According to The New York Times, Griner, 31, is under criminal investigation for “mass transportation of drugs, a crime that could carry up to 10 years behind bars in Russia”. The Phoenix Mercury, Griner’s WNBA team, and the WNBPA both released their support in early March.
Video of Griner attempting to pass through an airport screening from Russian customs on March 5, but the service did not identify the former boiler star by name. Russian news agency TASS then confirmed it was Griner, and Russian state TV released an undated photo of him at a police station later that day. The two-time Olympic gold medalist was reportedly detained on February 17.
According to a report by Russian state news agency TASS on March 17, a Moscow court has extended his custody till May 19. According to the insider, the court also denied Griner’s request for house arrest. As TASS reports, Griner, who is 6-foot-9, has complained about the prison cell beds being too small for her. She shares the cell with two other English-speaking inmates, and both reportedly have no prior convictions and are being held for “drug-related articles,” according to NBC.
On March 18, Ekaterina Kalugina, a representative of Moscow’s Public Monitoring Commission, which oversees how prisoners are treated, said that the US consulate has yet to visit Griner. Kalugina says this is despite Russian officials saying they will “create all conditions” for a visit.
That changed less than a week later. On March 22, US State Department spokesman Ned Price told Nation World News that a US embassy official had been given “consular access” to Griner so they could assess his condition.
“Our officer found Brittany Griner in good standing, and we will continue to do everything we can to see that she is treated fairly throughout this trial,” Price said.
The visit was “repeatedly told” by the US embassy in Moscow to speak with Griner shortly after his detention, but was denied access “persistently and unreasonably”. US Ambassador to Russia John Sullivan then called on the Russian Foreign Ministry to “follow international law and basic human decency to allow consular access to all US civilian detainees in Russia, including those in pre-trial detention”. ”
Russia launched a full-scale military offensive against Ukraine on February 24, prompting the US and other countries to impose severe sanctions against Russia. It is unclear whether the Russian detention of Griner, who played for Russian Premier League team UMMC Ekaterinburg during the last few WNBA off-seasons, was a retaliation.
Despite Russia’s intentions, the US government reportedly plans to launch a “pulled battle” to return Griner to his home country.
How have American politicians reacted?
Reaction to Griner’s position has been somewhat muted among US politicians over privacy concerns of the former WNBA champion. However, three US Congressmen representing Griner’s home state of Texas have voiced their support.
Texas Congressman Colin Allred, who is also a member of the House Foreign Affairs Committee, is personally working with the State Department to expedite Griner’s return to the US.
“Being organized for someone every day, especially being held overseas, is a lifetime,” said Allred, a former NFL linebacker who played football at Baylor in the early 2000s. “I agree that for her friends and family, this must be an incredibly difficult time. And for her, I’m sure the uncertainty about what’s going on is probably terrifying. And so, hopefully, whatever also happens, we can move it quickly and get him out.”
In a Twitter post, Texas Congressman Joaquin Castro said he was “closely monitoring” Griner’s Russian custody and demanded that he be “returned safely.”
“It follows a pattern of Russia unfairly detaining and imprisoning American citizens,” Castro wrote On March 5 “…American citizens are not political pawns.”
Castro’s comments were similar to those of Texas Congresswoman Sheila Jackson Lee. Speaking in front of a crowd, Jackson Lee called for Griner’s release and said he requested the State Department to prioritize his case.
“If there are challenges and concerns about his actions, it should be dealt with diplomatically and he should be released,” Jackson Lee said.
Secretary of State Antony Blinken and White House Press Secretary Jen Psaki both declined to comment directly on Griner’s situation last week, citing privacy concerns. Psaki noted that federal privacy law requires the US government to obtain written consent from a person detained to discuss their condition.
However, Blinken said his department is “doing everything we can” to ensure the rights of all Americans detained in Russia.
“Whenever an American is detained anywhere in the world, we certainly stand ready to provide all possible assistance, and that includes Russia,” Blinken said on March 6.
According to Congressman John Garamendi of California, providing assistance in Griner’s case won’t be easy. Garamendi, who also serves on the US House Committee on Armed Services, said the “non-existent” diplomatic relationship between the US and Russia would make her release “very difficult”.
“Our diplomatic relations with Russia do not exist at the moment,” Garamendi told Nation World News on Monday. “Maybe during the various negotiations, she may have been one of the solutions. I don’t know.”
Garamendi added Griner’s sexual orientation—she’s a lesbian—might make the process even more challenging because “Russia has some very strict LGBT rules and regulations.”
While it is yet to be determined whether Russia detained Griner for provoking the US, the State Department urged US citizens to leave Russia immediately to avoid the “possibility of persecution” in an updated March 5 advisory. urged.
Why was Griner in Russia?
Griner is one of approximately 70 WNBA players – nearly half of the league’s 144 roster spots – competing internationally during the 2022 off-season. She was also among more than a dozen people who played in Russia or Ukraine—all of whom, except Griner, are gone. Griner at UMMC Ekaterinburg alone has five WNBA All-Stars, with reigning WNBA MVPs Jonquel Jones, Brenna Stewart, Eli Quigley and Courtney Vanderslut on the current roster.
While there are varying reasons for Griner & Co. to play internationally, many do so for financial purposes. The minimum and maximum wages of the WNBA are $60,471 and $228,094, respectively. Those numbers are far less than the NBA has to offer, as the league – which plays 82 games compared to the WNBA’s 36 – has a minimum wage of $925,000 and a maximum salary starting at over $28 million.
Griner reportedly earns $1 million per season playing for UMMC Ekaterinburg.
The WNBA’s relatively low salary forced former league MVP – and Griner’s Mercury teammate – Diana Taurasi to accept a reportedly $1.5 million contract from UMMC Ekaterinburg in 2015, even though it cost her her that year’s WNBA season. Keep away from
“The year-round nature of women’s basketball takes its toll and it would have been irresponsible to turn down a financial opportunity with my team in Russia,” Torassi wrote in an open letter to fans. “He offered to pay me to rest and I’ve decided to take him on it. I want to be able to take care of myself and my family while I’m playing.”
In 2020, the WNBA and WNBPA agreed to a new eight-year CBA that would raise the median salary to about $130,000, above six figures for the first time. A year ago the WNBA’s maximum salary was $117,500.