The basketball world has had no shortage of memorable events recently. We saw star-making performances from Ja Morant en route to ultimately having his season ended by the Golden State Warriors. We saw yet another playoff collapse from James Harden and the Philadelphia 76ers. We saw the Boston Celtics overcome The Nigerian Freak Giannis Antetokounmpo and we saw the Phoenix Suns lose a game 7 in truly embarrassing fashion. But the biggest story isn’t even happening in our country right now.
The biggest story in the basketball world is Brittney Griner’s detainment in Russia. Griner is one of the most decorated women’s basketball players of all time, having won championships in college, in the WNBA, and in the Euroleague with her Russian team UMMC Ekaterinburg. She was a member of the championship team from the 2020 Tokyo Summer Olympics and is generally regarded as one of the best players ever in women’s basketball, but that provides only a fraction of the compensation of her male counterparts. As a result, Griner, like many other women’s basketball players, goes overseas to play basketball in the WNBA offseason.
Griner was scheduled to return to her Russian team at the beginning of this year and boarded a flight in February headed for Russia on February 17. That is the last time anyone has seen or heard from Griner, as she has been detained in Russia since that point. Officially she was arrested for possession of vape cartridges in her luggage, which are illegal in Russia. However, there is a growing fear that she is being held unjustly by Russia as a response to sanctions Russia has been receiving from Western nations following the Russian invasion of Ukraine.
Griner has been denied any sort of bail and is still being jailed until her case goes to trial. When she goes to her first hearing there is a possibility she could be released, but her court date has now been pushed back a third time and there’s no clue when she will actually be in front of a judge. It’s now reached the point where the United States government is considering prisoner swaps with Russian prisoners in an attempt to safely get her out of Russia. But for some reason, this story is only a footnote in the sports news cycle.
Griner is one of the most recognizable faces in women’s basketball, which clearly has made her a target of political warfare. The closest comparison I can think of to her career is that of Dwight Howard, in that both are dominant centers on the offensive and defensive ends of the court. I can’t imagine the sports world would be as silent if Howard became a prisoner in an Eastern European country during what has the potential to become World War 3. I find this truly concerning.
Regardless of why Griner is in Russia, regardless of whether you think vapes should be legal, or whether you think it was a mistake on her part to bring known contraband into the country, the only thing that matters is that she’s currently in jail seeking a fair trial and to be able to work and earn money to support her family. We should be doing all that we can to get Griner back home safely and use this as a reminder that the Ukrainian invasion is still taking place.
Free Britney Griner.
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