Brittney Griner, a two-time Olympic gold medalist and a seven-time WNBA All-Star, who plays for the Phoenix Mercury has been detained in Russia for over 100 days. She has also played for the Russian women’s basketball team, UMMC Ekaterinburg during the WNBA offseason since 2015. Having to play basketball in two different countries is becoming more commonplace for WNBA players. Due to sexism and wage inequality between the NBA and the WNBA.
Russian authorities alleged that they found vape cartridges that contained hashish oil in her luggage. Griner is now under investigation for “large-scale transportation of drugs”. This crime carries an up to 10-year jail sentence.
Much of Griner’s detainment in Russia has been shrouded in secrecy so not been heavily reported on traditional and social media.
Here is a timeline of what we know so far:
Feb 17th: Griner was detained at a Russian airport after a customs official reported they found hashish oil in her luggage.
March 7th: Griner’s wife, Cherelle Griner posted on Instagram, thanking fans for their support and asking for privacy.
March 8th: CNN reported Griner’s booking photo had aired on Russian TV, which was allegedly taken at a Moscow police station.
Russian state TV has released a photo of WNBA star Brittney Griner, who was arrested on drug charges in the country after Russian officials say cannabis oil was found in her luggage. CNN's @RosaFlores has the story. pic.twitter.com/SzB9MSSQfY— CNN (@CNN) March 8, 2022
March 17th: The Russian News Agency’s report detailed that Griner’s detention would be extended until May 19th. This extension would be used to allow the legal team to further investigate.
March 23rd: US consular officials met with Griner for the first time.
May 3rd: The US government declared Griner as being “wrongfully detained”. This statement meant that the government could now actively be involved in negotiating her release.
May 6th: The WNBA season started without Griner. Fans brought signs to matches and showed their support for her. Home courts honoured Griner by displaying her initials and jersey number on a floor sticker.
May 18th: The US Embassy stated that the Russian authorities had denied American officials from visiting Griner on three occasions.
Lindsay Kagwa Colas’, Griner’s agent, tweeted that her client is “being used as a political bargaining chip”
May 25th: Griner’s wife Cherelle told Good Morning America that she wants to see President Joe Biden treat Griner’s case like it is a priority. Cherelle also explained that Griner “would wholeheartedly love to not go overseas…but she can’t make enough money in the WNBA to sustain her life.”
May 29th: WNBA players have intensified their calls for Brittney Griner’s release on the 100th day of her detention.
Griner’s team opted for a strategy of silence to avoid politicising the case during the height of the conflict between Russia and Ukraine. This strategy has changed to one of amplification and public pressure placed on the US government. However, this strategy change does not seem to have garnered wide-scale public outrage.
Brittney Garner is arguably the best player in the WNBA. If Lebron James suddenly vanished in Russia, we would feel the waves of public shock, have many western leaders calling for his freedom and potentially cringey appeal videos from Hollywood actors. We would be inundated with news coverage and probably have hourly updates on the status of the case. But it’s been crickets for Brittney Griner.
When considering Brittney’s level of success within her field, some may have expected her celebrity status to drive outrage. However, as Black and queer people we know that regardless of celebrity or status, our identities colour the way we are treated in every sector of life.
Missing Black women
The lack of support and outcry about Brittney’s case shows how society continues to fail Black and Queer women. Griner’s case is not an anomaly. According to the National Crime Information Centre, a third of the almost 300,000 U.S. girls and women reported missing in 2020 were Black.
Griner’s treatment reveals that in the eyes of the public and the US government, Griner is a Black queer masculine presenting woman before she is a celebrity. The intersections of Brittney’s identity make her the “unideal” victim and this has been tantamount in the handling and reporting of her case.
The lack of urgency to get Griner safely home, from a country with a long history of legalised homophobia and hate crimes is concerning. This should be even more alarming as standing at 6 foot 9, Griner is a visibly queer Black person. Perhaps if there was pay parity between the NBA and WNBA, female basketball players would not have to risk their safety in countries like Russia.
We really need to do better for Brittney and Black women as a whole.