Brittney Griner was convicted of deliberately smuggling drugs into Russia and sentenced to nine years of jail time Thursday. The WNBA basketball star has been detained in Russia for the last six months in what seems to be a high-stakes game of geopolitical chess. Many athletes and celebrities have used their platform to speak out on behalf of Griner, add Justin Bieber as the latest. But does anyone care?
“If anyone knows of anyway (sic) I can help please let me know,” said Bieber.
Boston Celtics star Jaylen Brown, Golden State Warriors superstar Stephen Curry and Los Angeles Lakers’ superstar LeBron James have all spoken out on various platforms with the same message. Free BG. But it doesn’t seem that the overwhelming majority of the American public seems to care.
President Biden has been clear that he wants Griner released, but it’s a matter for the U.S. State Department to work out.
“Today, American citizen Brittney Griner received a prison sentence that is one more reminder of what the world already knew: Russia is wrongfully detaining Brittney. It’s unacceptable, and I call on Russia to release her immediately so she can be with her wife, loved ones, friends, and teammates,” Biden said in a statement.
Like with Bieber, it’s a fine message, but with no clear plan of action.
Russia and the U.S. are two of the world’s superpowers. They are not natural allies at best and nuclear enemies at worst. Russia is still engaged in a war with the Ukraine whom the U.S. supplied aid to. No doubt that sent a message to Russian President Vladamir Putin. As does the detainment and sentencing of Griner.
It is very likely that both countries are working through back channels on a deal that would allow Griner to come home without serving her sentence. As discussed on major news outlets, that would involve some kind of prisoner swap.
Russian arms dealer Viktor Bout is being held here, and it’s likely that Putin would want him released in exchange for Griner. A man nicknamed the “Merchant of Death” and through his trade responsible for the death of countless lives in exchange for a basketball player who had some vape cartridges.
Doesn’t seem like an equitable deal. But will the U.S. government prevent Griner from coming home to keep a dangerous man locked away?
There is so much more to this story than Griner, even though she should be the main focus. She did break Russian laws and punishment for said action should be meted out. But nothing about this situation feels right.
No matter how many pleas from celebrities and athletes and statements from the president, this is a serious high-stakes game with one of our fellow citizens’ life hanging in the balance.
“We are very disappointed by the verdict. As legal professionals, we believe that the court should be fair to everyone regardless of nationality. The court completely ignored all the evidence of the defense, and most importantly, the guilty plea,” Griner’s lawyers said in the statement. “This contradicts the existing legal practice. Taking into account the amount of the substance (not to mention the defects of the expertise) and the plea, the verdict is absolutely unreasonable. We will certainly file an appeal.”
Anyone expecting a quick resolution and a simple request to free BG to be granted doesn’t understand the high level stakes at play between two superpowers that can’t be perceived to be backing down to the other.
This is a problem, yet nobody seems to really care.