Emmy Griffin / July 18, 2022

Why Should We Care About Brittney Griner?

Her criminal trial in Russia has LeBron James running his mouth.

Brittney Griner is a Women’s National Basketball Association (WNBA) All-Star. She was the number one draft pick when she went pro. She has long been the LGBTQ+ poster child in professional athletics. She is a 31-year-old woman at the top of her game. But all that has come to a screeching halt.

Griner was arrested at a Moscow airport in February just before the invasion of Ukraine. She was detained because drugs including empty vapes and hashish oil were found in her luggage. She has a prescription for the use of the oil in the U.S., but it is illegal in Russia. She knew these items were against the law there and yet took them anyway.

She is the highest-profile American prisoner in Russia and in recent weeks has garnered a plethora of headlines at her trial. She pleaded guilty to possession of the hashish oil in the hopes of a lesser sentence. In Russia, a charge like hers could amount to 10 years of prison time.

Griner’s coach for the Phoenix Mercury, Vanessa Nygaard, issued this statement: “If it was [NBA player] LeBron [James], he’d be home, right? It’s a statement about the value of women. It’s a statement about the value of a black person. It’s a statement about the value of a gay person. All of those things. We know it, and so that’s what hurts a little more.”

But is it really? When athletes go abroad, they are made aware of what is legal and what is not within that country. It seems to us that this is a statement of “you play stupid games, you win stupid prizes.” Griner took her hashish oil and vapes to Russia, got caught, and is now paying for it — just like any white, straight guy would. There is also a distinct difference between being detained on trumped-up charges versus being detained for actually breaking the law. Griner did actually break Russian law.

The statement could also be that Americans are not invulnerable to foreign powers, especially when they are on that country’s turf.

For his part, LeBron James spoke out against Griner’s detainment on the HBO show “The Shop,” where he noted that it had been over 110 days of jail time for Griner. “How could she feel like America has her back?” he wondered. “I would be feeling like, ‘Do I even want to go back to America?’”

He immediately tried to walk it back with a social media post saying: “My comments on ‘The Shop’ regarding Brittney Griner wasn’t knocking our beautiful country. I was simply saying how she’s probably feeling emotionally along with so many other emotions, thoughts, etc inside that cage she’s been in for over 100+ days! Long story short #BringHerHome.” LeBron has a history of making anti-America and pro-China comments.

Fellow NBA player and ardent lover of America Enes Kanter Freedom could not let that comment go without challenging it. His response to LeBron’s walk back was this: “You call it a step back, we call this a walk back. You are free to leave buddy or you can even volunteer for an exchange for her. Some people literally have NO idea what is it like to live in a dictatorship. Keep taking your freedom for granted.” Kanter Freedom is from Turkey and has some idea of what a lack of freedom looks and feels like.

As for Griner, she is definitely yearning for her freedom. She has written a letter to President Joe Biden asking for help. There have even been suggestions of a prisoner exchange as a potential resolution to this situation. Her next hearing is on July 26.

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