WNBA champion and two-time Olympic Gold Medalist Brittney Griner is still in custody after the Russian Federal Customs Service found cannabis oil in her luggage at an airport in Moscow one month ago. Griner is being investigated for “large scale transportation of drugs,” an offense that could lead to a ten-year sentence in Russia.
It is feared that Griner has been wrongfully detained and her situation is another case of an American being used as political leverage by another country.
Congresspeople have since been fighting to get Griner back to the United States, including Texas Democratic Rep. Sheila Jackson Lee. On March 5, Lee pushed for Russia to set Griner free; the offense that she is being detained for is not a crime in the United States.
“Brittney Griner is a United States citizen, she was a guest in Russia…and I will be demanding her release,” Lee said. “I have just spoken to the State Department to try and get them to focus on her circumstances.”
The U.S. Embassy has requested consular access to her, but they have been denied for three weeks.
Texas congressman Colin Allred noted how getting Griner out of Russia is “complicated;” the relationship between the United States and Russia has been tense and their war against Ukraine is further wearying their bond.
“The Russian criminal justice system is very different than ours, very opaque,” Allred said. “We don’t have a lot of insight into where she is in that process right now, but she’s been held for three weeks now, and that’s extremely concerning.”
According to Allred, Griner has been in contact with her Russian lawyer who is in contact with her agent and family members.
“So we do know that she’s okay,” Allred said.
Another issue in this situation is that Griner is a lesbian and Russia supports anti-LGBTQ sentiment. Last year, Russian president Vladimir Putin signed a constitutional amendment that banned gay marriage.
The two-time WNBA Defensive Player of the Year has been playing for the Russian club UMMC Ekaterinburg for seven seasons. She helped the team win four EuroLeague Women’s championships.
Many WNBA players compete overseas to supplement their pay. WNBA seasonal salaries for veteran players are around $200,000 while teams overseas offer players more. For example, Griner earned $1 million for competing for UMMC Ekaterinburg but earned $215,000 during her 2020-2021 season with the Mercury.
Griner’s wife Cherelle has expressed her sentiments on social media.
“People say ‘stay busy.’ Yet, there’s not a task in this world that could keep any of us from worrying about you. My heart, our hearts, are all skipping beats every day that goes by,” Cherelle stated. “There are no words to express this pain. I’m hurting, we’re hurting.”
Griner is a native of Houston, Texas, and helped Baylor win a national championship in 2012. She became the first overall pick in the 2013 WNBA Draft, acquired by the Phoenix Mercury. She, along with WNBA icon Diana Taurasi and Candice Dupree, played a key role in the Mercury winning the 2014 WNBA Championship. Griner is a six-time WNBA All-Star.