On August 4th, 2022, American Women’s Basketball star Brittney Griner was sentenced to nine-and-a-half years in a Russian prison. The court found her guilty of smuggling marijuana into Russia. While the news sounds nerve-wracking, the actual turn of events behind the story is far more depressing.
What actually happened?
WNBA star Britney Griner plays for the Phoenix Mercury in the Women’s NBA. However, she played on the Russian basketball circuit for UMMC Ekaterinburg during the off-season. Many American basketball players play in other leagues during the off-season to earn extra money and remain in shape.
Griner had her commitments with the Russian team UMMC Ekaterinburg and landed in Russia on 17th February 2022 to represent the team. However, things changed very quickly as the Russian customs department arrested Griner on charges of smuggling marijuana to Russia. Griner was taken into custody and sent to prison. A formal trial was conducted during which customs officials revealed that they had found vape cartridges in Griner’s luggage. The cartridges contained marijuana concentrate hashish oil. These were severe charges and could lead to a sentence of up to 10 years in prison.
Since it was a high-profile case, the US government intervened immediately and issued a statement in Griner’s defense on May 3rd, 2022. Griner’s arrest was strongly condemned, and the US government maintained that Russia had wrongfully detained Griner.
In fact, Griner mistakenly packed a few grams of marijuana in her luggage since she was packed in a hurry. It was a mere misunderstanding that eventually put her at the mercy of the Russians.
Free #BrittneyGriner NOW! pic.twitter.com/axaMGlswYc — Todd (they/them) #AbolishThePolice (@ToddBohannon) August 10, 2022
Initially, Griner had refused to comment on the issue while her lawyers pointed fingers at the Forensic standards of the Russian investigators.
Russia Decline Prisoner Exchange
Considering the high-profile nature of the case, nobody expected the Russian authorities to cooperate or offer any support. Many had anticipated that Russia would want to use this detainment in prison exchanges. Under immense pressure from the players, celebrities, and fans, the US government made the offer of a prisoner exchange for its Russian counterparts. However, Russia declined the offer, saying that any such exchanges would only be possible once the trial period was over.
On the 4th of July, Griner wrote a letter to the White House. She requested US President Joe Biden to intervene in the matter and take steps for Griner’s release. The president and the first lady talked to Griner’s wife. They promised immediate action for Griner’s release, in addition to offering moral support to Griner and her family.
On July 7th, Griner pled guilty to the drug charges leveled against her. She accepted her mistake of unintentionally packing concentrate in her luggage. Her lawyers also admitted that Griner packed her stuff in a rush and mistakenly put the illegal substances in her bags.
Following that, the legal protocols were quickly finished, and Griner was sentenced to nine long years in prison.
What’s expected now?
Now that the trial period is over, it is hoped and expected that US and Russian officials will soon agree on a prisoner exchange agreement, and Griner will soon be back home.
Russia confirms it seeks convicted arms dealer in potential prisoner swap for WNBA star Brittney Griner – https://t.co/GxJA7rssJb https://t.co/ZpseVNlpRi — Nevaeh (@TyFromTheSky) August 13, 2022
A Russian arms dealer Victor Bout is currently serving his sentence in the US. He is also called the merchant of death for his involvement in arms deals and assassinations. At the same time, the US has offered Victor Bout’s exchange for Brittney Griner and another wrongfully detained US citizen. The Putin administration understands the immense pressure that US officials are under and wants to exploit the opportunity. They also want to include the release of Vadim Krasikov in the deal. Krasikov was involved in the Berlin assassination and is currently doing time in Germany.
Adrienne Watson, a spokesperson for the National Security Council, spoke on the matter and severely criticized the Russian government for its lack of cooperation and negative approach to such a crucial case.
Brittney Griner and the WNBA community
The WNBA community has come together to support Griner and her family, who are going through a challenging period. Griner was included in the All-Stars WNBA team as an honorary member. Her team Phoenix Mercury issued an official statement that condemned the whole Russian Legal Process and called for the return of Griner. “We are BG,” the statement read.
Griner remains an important asset of this country. She is an NBA champion, a two-time Olympic Gold medallist, and a two-time World Champion of the FIBA Women’s Basketball World cup.
We Are BG. pic.twitter.com/xFLu0a2aSB — Phoenix Mercury (@PhoenixMercury) August 4, 2022
Let’s just hope and pray that the whole exchange process takes place as soon as possible and Griner returns home to reunite with her family, friends, team, and fans.
There is a lot that Griner still has to achieve in her career. The whole nation stands right behind her!