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What Is Being Done To Free Brittney Griner?

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“Britney Griner: The ‘Tom Brady of women’s basketball’ has vanished”. That is what BBC World News tweeted on March 15th in regards to international basketball legend Brittney Griner being detained in Russia. At the time of the tweet little was known about Brittney Griner’s situation other than she was arrested at a Moscow airport and being charged with possessing cannabis vape pen cartridges.

Since that time, details have started to trickle in regarding the situation. Brittney Griner, who plays professional women’s basketball for UMMC Ekaterinburg in Russia during the WNBA offseason, was originally arrested on February 17th, with news of the arrest surfacing at the international level weeks later.

According to a ‘source close to Griner’ she is doing ‘OK’. Per ESPN:

The source close to Griner said that despite the inability of diplomats to visit Griner or other Americans in Russian custody, they have gotten frequent updates on her from her team of Russian attorneys.

“I wouldn’t say she’s ‘good,’ but she’s OK,” the source said.

A court in Moscow recently set a date of May 19th to start the process of reviewing Griner’s case (not an actual trial date), which came after the court granted an extension to Griner’s pre-trial detention originally proposed by Russian prosecutors.

How Great Is Brittney Griner At Basketball?

Brittney Griner is one of the greatest basketball players in the history of the game. Below is just a mere sampling of some of her accomplishments:

  • Member of Team USA’s 2016 gold medal team during 2016 Olympics in Rio de Janeiro
  • Two-time gold medalist with Team USA at FIBA Women’s Basketball World Championships (2018, 2014)
  • Named the MVP of the gold medal game in 2018
  • Two-time WNBA Defensive Player of the Year (2015, 2014)
  • Six-time WNBA All-Star (2019, 2018, 2017, 2015, 2014 and 2013)
  • Two-Time All-WNBA First Team (2019, 2014)
  • Three-Time All-WNBA Second Team (2018, 2017, 2015)
  • Three-Time All-WNBA Defensive First Team (2018, 2015, 2014)
  • Three-Time All-WNBA Defensive Second Team (2019, 2017, 2016)
  • Holds WNBA regular season records for blocks in a single game (11), blocks in a season (129, 2014), single-season blocks average (4.04, 2015) and career blocks average (2.9)

Griner’s resume speaks for itself – she is an elite athlete, hence why BBC World News felt comfortable comparing her to another elite athlete by the name of Tom Brady. Unfortunately, Griner is not compensated at the same level as Tom Brady. Whereas Tom Brady made tens of millions of dollars last season in the NFL, Griner made $220,000 in the WNBA during the same season. Griner makes an additional $1 million during the WNBA offseason playing in Russia.

What Is The U.S. Government Doing To Help Free Griner?

The criminal justice system in Russia is not exactly known for being credible and fair. It is no secret that many prisoners are arrested and put in detention for political purposes in Russia, and given Brittney Griner’s fame and notoriety, many observers have floated the obvious theory that Griner was possibly arrested as some type of ploy by Russia to use her as political leverage in some manner.

According to BBC, today marks the 25th day of the Russian invasion in Ukraine, which puts the initial invasion just days after Griner was reportedly arrested. Is that just a coincidence? Or was it premeditated? Without proper due process, there’s no way to know for sure.

“There have been a lot of allegations of planting of substances on people, particularly on the part of human rights advocates,” says Peter Maggs, a law professor at the University of Illinois and an expert on Russia’s civil code according to CNN.

Making matters worse, the United States government has indicated that it has had no contact with Griner. Per the previously cited article by ESPN:

A State Department official issued a statement to ESPN on Thursday saying, “We insist the Russian government provide consular access to all U.S. citizen detainees in Russia, including those in pre-trial detention, as Brittney Griner is.”

The statement marks a slight but significant change in the government’s tone when it comes to Griner. Up until now the government has deliberately kept a low profile with her case, hoping not to increase her profile to the point where she might become a valuable political asset to the Russian government. It generally has avoided commenting at all, and when Secretary of State Antony Blinken was asked about her at a news conference last week he gave a tepid statement that did not mention her by name.

Based on State Department guidance, Griner’s representatives have asked the WNBA, NBA, the media and Griner’s supporters generally to keep any attention to her case “on a low simmer,” as one source said.

Will Griner Be Released Pre-Trial?

Why is the United States government pursuing a flawed strategy of keeping attention to Griner’s case “on a low simmer?” Would that be the case if it was Tom Brady who was arrested? What if the case didn’t involve a substance that the United States government still prohibits? Would things still be “on a low simmer”?

The fact of the matter is that Russia is not going to give in to any demands made by the United States on anything right now, and that was true even before Russia invaded Ukraine. Furthermore, Brittney Griner is an international superstar. Not only is she one of the most legendary female athletes in the United States, she is an Olympic champion who is also a professional athlete in Russia.

Keeping things “on a low simmer” will not make Brittney Griner any more or less famous than she already is. Make no mistake about it – Russia’s government knows exactly who Brittney Griner is. The second she was arrested, Brittney Griner became a political prisoner even if the United States government doesn’t seem to want to treat the case that way.

Russia’s law dictates that prisoners can only be held for a year before facing trial, however, there are examples of that deadline being surpassed, including cases involving citizens of the United States. Short of an enormous amount of ongoing outcry by anyone and everyone, including and especially the WNBA and NBA, it’s quite possible that Griner could remain incarcerated indefinitely in Russia due to the cannabis charges.

Unfortunately, it’s that very thing that the United States government is specifically asking people not to do, which is shameful and no doubt based to some degree on the United States federal government’s long-standing opposition to cannabis and people who use it.

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