Free the Other Brittney
This news is about as “Oh shit” as it can get. WNBA player, seven-time All-Star, two-time Olympic gold medalist and the first league draft pick (at No. 1 no less) to enter while out, Brittney Griner is being held in Russian jail for allegedly carrying “vape cartridges that contained hashish oil” when she arrived at a Moscow airport last month.
Black. Queer. Out. Married. Masc-presenting. And now held as a prisoner in a country that is notoriously, notoriously anti-LGBTQ+ rights — and that’s underselling it, honestly.
To say this news is terrible is an understatement. It’s terrifying. The charges she is being held on carry an up to 10-year sentence in Russia. Ten years. Oh shit doesn’t even begin to cover it.
Like many WNBA players, she supplements her league salary with high-paying work overseas in professional leagues. While the timeline for her arrest is a little hazy, it seems to have happened before Russia began its unprovoked war against Ukraine. But now, her detainment has tense geopolitical overtones.
The simple human tragedy of this extraordinarily talented human person being held hostage in a decidedly unfriendly country with the possibility of her losing a decade of her life because of something that’s perfectly legal in large swaths of America is one thing. (Yes, of course, I know it’s illegal in Russia.) The possibility that her situation becomes a highly charged international incident is quite high right now. As is the possibility Russia makes an example out of this very “other” American superstar. Again, the possibilities are truly terrifying.
Brittney’s team the Phoenix Mercury, WNBA, US Basketball and even U.S. Secretary of State Antony Blinken have issued statements supporting her (though Blinken’s was intentionally vague and didn’t name Brittney). I honestly don’t know what the best solution is here. If it’s better to not make her detention a flashpoint with more publicity and to allow backchannels to work more quietly or to just raise holy hell. But I truly, truly hope there is a solution that sends her home to her wife safely soon. I’m not a person who prays, but I am a person who worries and hopes. And that’s what I’m doing.
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