Brittney Griner, the two-time Olympic champion and seven-time WNBA All Star, was arrested in Vladimir Putin’s Russia this past February. Concern is growing for Griner’s safety since she is both Black and queer in Russia, a nation in which Putin has allowed anti-Black and anti-LGBTQ+ sentiment to foster.
Russian state TV released a photograph of Griner on March 8—International Women’s Day—which showed Griner’s booking photo: she was holding a placard while in custody in the aftermath of her February arrest at Moscow’s Sheremetyevo International Airport. Griner was taken into custody after flying into Moscow from New York. During a search of her hand luggage, “the presence of vapes with specifically smelling liquid” were found, the Russian Federal
Customs Service said in a statement: “an expert determined that the liquid was cannabis oil (hash oil), which is a narcotic substance.”
Griner faces a punishment of between 5 to 10 years in prison. She has already been detained for 3 weeks now and her exact location remains unknown.
Griner’s wife, Cherelle, posted a statement on Instagram calling for support to bring Brittney home: “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.”
The basketball star’s agent, Lindsay Kagawa Colas, has said that she is in contact with WNBA and NBA legal representatives, and that they are working to aid Griner.
Rep. Sheila Jackson Lee, who represents Griner’s hometown of Houston, Texas, is calling for the U.S. to bring Brittney Griner home. Russia has a noted violent and racist history against Black people and under Putin the LGBTQIA community has been under constant attack. Griner could face unspeakable deprivations in Putin’s Russia as he wages a desperate war in Ukraine.
“The critical and urgent issue that I was able to raise with the president was the illegal arrest and detaining of Britney Griner,” Rep. Lee noted in a March 8 statement on Twitter. She said she “raised the need for her to be immediately released and for her to receive the help of the United States to demand and facilitate that release.
“It is clear that Putin chooses to use American citizens as pawns and has detained many other Americans on false charges. He is now waging a vile, evil, immoral, and vicious war of terrorism; and now maybe choosing to use the celebrity status of Griner to threaten the West and threaten the United States. Brittney Griner is a professional athlete at the top of her game who plays professionally in Russia and the United States. Frankly, Putin is a war criminal and should not be holding anyone. Griner should be released now along with other detained Americans. The United States government working with Congress should demand their release, and Putin should be tried as a war criminal! Enough is enough!”
Griner plays for the WNBA’s Phoenix Mercury where she earns a base salary of $227,900 annually. Like other WNBA players, she spends her offseason playing abroad where she can earn a higher income. Griner has played in the Euroleague since 2015, she is a member of the Russian UMMC Ekaterinburg team and has earned over $1 million per season for the last seven years.