Sentenced to nine unjust years for possession of hashish oil. DDW looks at Brittney Griner, the basketball prodigy who’s become a political prisoner under the iron fist.
For many, Brittney Griner is just another tabloid name circulating the headlines in yet another modern foreign policy and human rights infringing fiasco. But who exactly is she and why such a hefty sentence, especially as a first-time offender and well, and being a big deal in women’s athletics.
For those who don’t know, Brittney Yevette Griner is a 31-year-old professional basketball player from Houston, Texas. Currently representing Phoenix Mercury, an NBA team competing in the Women’s National Basketball Association or WNBA.
Outside of WNBA, Griner has used her platform for positivity, showing support for the LGBTQIA+ community as well as standing up and participating in Human Rights campaigns such as Black Lives Matters. Married to her long-term partner, Cherella Griner since 2019, Brittney Griner is probably the last person many would expect to be at the bottom of the world’s next monumental human rights disaster.
Back in February 2022, Griner was visiting Russia. A country with which laws and regulations she would have been familiar with, especially as she formerly represented Russia’s UMMC Ekateringburg in the Russian Women’s Basketball Premier League.
Upon arriving in Russia, Brittney Griner was arrested at Moscow’s Sheremteyevo airport and charged with possession and drug smuggling after authorities found vape cartridges containing THC in the form of hashish oil. From the get-go, Griner pleaded guilty to all charges, accepting responsibility however remaining insistent that she had not planned or purposefully intended on bringing the illicit substances with her.
Unfortunately for Griner, Russia as of late has been ruling itself with a reinforced iron fist. Under constant scrutiny worldwide for its handling of the unrest in Ukraine, it comes as no surprise that Russia, its government officials or authorities are wanting to continue the route of neo-fascism. Excluding all need for compassion, understanding or exemption and instead, directing all with extremity.
Fast forward to August 2022. After five months of being kept in Russian custody. Griner was transported to a local court in Khimki to stand trial. Griner continued to take full accountability for the charges, insisting:
“I made an honest mistake and I hope that your ruling, doesn’t end my life here”
Whilst the rest of the world stood in solidarity with Brittney Griner and supported her version of events, Russia stood firm as always. Instead of making an exemption, Russia seized the opportunity, using Brittney as an example for any future foreign visitors to abide by all Russian laws and regulations. Sentencing the WNBA star to a horrific nine years without parole.
An excessive sentence with Russia capitalising on the scandal, turning it into a new-political message to all neighbouring nations. Following widespread criticism. Many believe that Russia is giving the basketball star an unjust sentence in the hopes that the States will offer a prisoner swap to have Griner deported back home.
In the world of Women’s National Basketball, Brittney Griner has made a name for herself as being one of the most versatile, well-rounded and accomplished modern players through not only her sporting IQ but also her physical excellence. After bursting onto the college basketball scene, Griner became the number one WNBA draft pick, reinstating her athletic potential and the bright future she had ahead.
Trevor Reed, a former US Marine who was freed from Russia in a US-Russia prison swap has spoken out on the situation, insisting that the US Government can and should do more to help Griner. Reed told The Guardian:
“In my opinion, the White House has the ability to get them out extremely fast, and they clearly have chosen not to do that. So no, in my opinion, they’re not doing enough.”
With the Griner saga going on since February, it’s hard to argue with Reed’s statement. Seven months on, no negotiations or proposals have been made in an attempt to have Griner freed or exchanged for another prisoner. Whether this is down to poor negotiations on Biden’s half or Russia standing firm, nobody truly knows. However, if it was the likes of Michael Jordan, LeBron James or even Kevin Durant. It’s hard to imagine the US Government taking their foot off the gas like in Griner’s instance.
Speaking out on the harsh sentence, Griner’s sporting agent Lindsay Colas labelled the sentencing “severe by Russian legal standards and goes to prove what we have known all along, that Brittney is being used as a political pawn.”
Not only has Russia chosen to seize this opportunity to reinforce its ability to crack down on illegal behaviours from foreigners but Russian culture has long become indoctrinated by its openly anti-Black and anti-Muslim stance, complemented by its objectification of LGBTQIA+ and same-sex marriages. Unfortunately for Brittney Griner, as an open Black gay woman who has smuggled drugs, she fits the bill as a poster girl for what’s neither appropriate nor accepted in Mother Russia.
Even with the US Government and United Nations working hand in hand around the clock, it looks as though this is only the beginning of the end for Griner and co.
Whether or not the saga ends in positivity, with Griner returning home. It’s evident that the damage on Russia’s part has already been done. The reputation of an already broken and decrepit country has fallen more into public disarray, finding a new place in the scrutiny it rightfully belongs to. Only time will tell how these events pan out, but one thing is for sure.
With America’s history and reputation for freeing those from unjust sentences, the patriotic nation will certainly not sit still until more is done to protect the human rights of every one of its residents. No matter where in the world they find themselves.