In June, a Russian court extended U.S. basketball star Brittney Griner’s detainment to July. Griner’s trial began on July 1st which was 4 and a half months post arrest. It was there that the Russian prosecutors explained their case against Griner. The prosecutor said, “Being quite aware that it is banned to carry narcotic substances in the Eurasian Economic Union, she bought two cartridges holding 0.252 and 0.45 grams of cannabis oil, or 0.702 grams in total, for personal consumption from an unidentified person in an unidentified location and under unidentified circumstances but not later than February 17, 2022.”
With these charges Griner could face up to 10 years in prison. At that first hearing she did not enter a plea.
Griner penned a handwritten, deeply personal letter to U.S. President Joe Biden and it was delivered to the White House on the 4th of July. A few excerpts were shared with the public through her communications team.
“…as I sit here in a Russian prison, alone with my thoughts and without the protections of my wife, family, friends, Olympic jersey, or any accomplishments, I’m terrified I might be here forever.”
“On the 4th of July, our family normally honors the service of those who fought for our freedom, including my father who is a Vietnam War Veteran. It hurts thinking about how I usually celebrate this day because freedom means something completely different to me this year.”
“I realize you are dealing with so much, but please don’t forget about me and the other American Detainees. Please do all you can to bring us home. I voted for the first time in 2020 and I voted for you. I believe in you. I still have so much good to do with my freedom that you can help restore. I miss my wife! I miss my family! I miss my teammates! It kills me to know they are suffering so much right now. I am grateful for whatever you can do at this moment to get me home.”
President Biden and Vice President Kamala Harris were able to speak with Brittney Griner’s wife, Cherelle Griner on July 6, 2022. President Biden shared a draft of the letter he planned on sending Griner in response to hers.
The White House released a statement saying that, “The president offered his support to Cherelle and Brittney’s family, and he committed to ensuring they are provided with all possible assistance while his administration pursues every avenue to bring Brittney home.”
Griner’s second hearing resumed on July 7, 2022. It was there that she plead guilty to the charges but denied intent.
“I’d like to plead guilty, your honor, but there was no intent. I didn’t want to break the law.” Griner expressed in court. Her words were spoken softly in English and then translated into Russian in the court.
She continued, “I’d like to give my testimony later. I need time to prepare.”
In a country with a less than 1% acquittal rate, her lawyers are putting their hope in a lenient sentence due to, “the nature of her case, the insignificant amount of the substance and Brittney Griner’s personality and history of positive contribution to global and Russian sport.”
Maria Blagovolina, Griner’s attorney, said, “We, as her defense, explained to her the possible consequences. Brittney stressed that she committed the crime out of carelessness, getting ready to board a plane to Russia in a hurry, not intending to break Russian law. We certainly hope this circumstance, in combination with the defense evidence, will be taken into account when passing the sentence, and it will be mild.”
As the world awaits the results of this trial which is projected to conclude in August, important conversations are needed surrounding women’s sports. It is no secret that it is common practice for women who are professional basketball players to supplement their WNBA incomes by playing overseas. The pay gap between men and women in professional sports is insulting and mimics nearly every other industry. While the average NBA base salary is around 5.4 million, the average WNBA salary is $120,600. Before anyone argues that the NBA season is longer, 82 games (NBA) versus 36 games (WNBA), well, math does exist, and the numbers still don’t add up.
In a show of solidarity with their fellow WNBA sister, during the All-Star Game that happened over the weekend all players came out in matching No. 42 Griner basketball jerseys. Griner was also named an honorary starter.
Seattle Storm guard Sue Bird told ESPN, “We just wanted to make sure at some point that we are able to — on national television, obviously in front of a sold-out crowd — put Brittney’s name in the forefront. Hopefully at some point she sees a picture or something, letting her know that she is always on our minds and in our hearts.”
There is a possibility that former New Mexico Governor Bill Richardson, who operates an organization called The Richardson Center for Global Engagement, might travel to Russia in an effort to help with Griner’s release. The Richardson Center for Global Engagement aids in hostage and prisoner release negotiations. Plans are not confirmed at present, as the organization gave a statement saying they, “are unable to comment on this, at the moment.” Richardson was a part of the negotiations that led to former U.S. Marine Trevor Reed’s release from Russian custody last April. As Richardson’s efforts would be independent of the Biden administration, any and all assistance would be appreciated.