The Russians have been fairly silent concerning the fate of basketball star Brittney Griner. As a Black gay American female in a country at war, this could not be a worse time for her to be rotting away in a Moscow prison. Griner was arrested at the Moscow Airport for illegally possessing a THC substance that’s legal in most parts of the world. All that’s really known is that her trial date is coming up soon.
The WNBA All-Star and the winner of two Olympic gold medals is accused of a serious offense under Russian law that could cause her up to a decade behind bars. Russian authorities are known to judge the LGBTQ community harshly. They prefer them to be out of sight and out of mind and have no problem with helping to achieve that goal.
The fact that Putin and the boys have been able to manipulate a newfound nationalist zeal among Russians leads to concerns over how Griner is currently being treated and what the outcome of her trial will render.
Howard University political science professor Clarence Lusane said very clearly, “There are many countries around the world where you do not want to get in trouble, and Russia is one of them.”
Griner’s legal team has been working diligently behind the scenes but has offered no information and Russian prosecutors won’t give any type of clarity. As a result, the U.S. Government has had very little to say.
The only reason Griner’s case has received so much attention is because of her prominent status as a sports celebrity. Cases like hers are not all that rare in Russia and elsewhere overseas, and in almost all cases, the U.S. State Department is powerless to help. All they can do is arrange for the arrested person to find an American attorney.
The star of The Phoenix Mercury was caught with some vape cartridges containing cannabis oil. These can be purchased at any dispensary in any U.S. state where medical marijuana is legal. But in Russia, it’s a different story.
In the U.S. off-season, like many of her professional co-hearts, Griner plays for the Russian League. When the league took a short break she returned home to visit her wife and was arrested on her return trip when an x-ray scanner picked up the cartridges.
Any type of diplomatic move on the part of the U.S. would require concessions that the state department is not prepared to make considering the volatile situation in Russia at present. Tit for tat is not on their agenda.
Russian law expert William Butler from Penn State Dickerson Law said, “It’s a trial lawyer’s nightmare since you have to conduct a trial when the larger political environment is negative.”
State Department spokesperson Ned Price said they’ve been “doing everything we can to support Brittney Griner to support her family, and to work with them to do everything we can, to see that she is treated appropriately and to seek her release.”
Is Griner’s career over? Will the Russians keep her behind bars for the next decade? She certainly bears a huge portion of the blame for taking a chance she knew might not work out well if caught with the cartridges. But is the punishment really going to fit the crime? Not in the U.S., but unfortunately, this isn’t where she currently resides.