Last week, during the 2022 ESPY awards, famous athletes Megan Rapinoe and Steph Curry advocated for the release of WNBA star Brittney Griner from detention in Russia. The saga of Griner’s arrest and subsequent trial, which is still underway in Russian courts, has been a tragic showing of how black athletes are treated and has become another point of contention in already tense relations between the United States and Russia.
Griner was arrested on February 17 in the Sheremetyevo International airport in Moscow for possession of cannabis. The cannabis in question was THC “hashish” cartridges to be used in vapes or other e-cigarette. Griner’s lawyers have argued that Griner was recommended to take medical cannabis to ease chronic pain, she was still detained by Russian authorities for several months. Griner pled guilty to possession of the drug, but remains entrenched in the trial, as Russian courts do not immediately end a trial once a guilty plea has been entered. Prior to her release, Griner faced a maximum sentence of 10 years in prison.
In the United States, many were frustrated in the lack of effort to bring Griner back to her home country. The continuation of her stay in Russian custody was classified as “wrongful detainment” by the U.S. State Department on May 3, indicating intention on the part of the US to take more aggressive action to retrieve her, but failed to free the star for several months. After both the statement on support of Griner at the ESPYs, and after Cherelle Griner gave an interview on her wife’s behalf with Good Morning America, a spokesperson for Russia’s Foreign Ministry has declared the State Department’s “wrongful detainment” classification of Griner’s case as “disrespectful” to Russian law.
Griner testified on July 27 that she was not given access to a lawyer, not adequately enlightened as to what was occurring during her arrest, and told to sign papers that she could not read. Her unfair treatment by Russia and the other troubling details coming to light in her trial are only the latest in a story that continues to unfold. That same day, the Biden Administration reported that they offered a prisoner swap with Kremlin officials for the return of Griner and another American held in captivity, Paul Whelan. Many African Americans have interpreted this offer as caving to public pressure, and the continued presence of Griner in Russia as a testimony to how little American society cares for its black athletes. Brilliant Minds Collective joins the call for U.S. officials to ensure the safe return of Brittany Griner.