Brittney Griner is one of the most famous basketball players in the world. She’s a two-time Olympic gold medalist and she plays for Phoenix Mercury during the regular WNBA season, and as it turns out, during the WNBA off-season, she goes to Russia to play for UMMC Ekaterinburg. She’s been spending the past several years playing for that Russian league for more money than she makes for the Phoenix Mercury. That’s why she was in Russia when the Russian military invaded Ukraine. The American embassy told Americans to get the hell out of Russia immediately when the invasion began (the State Department had issued alerts to Americans before then) and it looks like all of the American WNBA players quickly got out. But not Brittney. As she was trying to fly out of Russia, she was stopped, searched and she’s currently being detained in Russia.
Russia said on Saturday that it had detained an American basketball player — later identified as Phoenix Mercury center Brittney Griner — on drug charges, entangling a U.S. citizen’s fate in the dangerous confrontation between Russia and the West over Ukraine. The Russian Federal Customs Service said its officials had detained the player after finding vape cartridges that contained hashish oil in her luggage at the Sheremetyevo airport near Moscow, and it released a video of a traveler going through airport security who appeared to be Griner.
The Customs Service did not release the player’s name, but the Russian news agency Tass, citing a law enforcement source, identified the player as Griner, a seven-time W.N.B.A. All-Star center for the Mercury. In a statement, Griner’s agent, Lindsay Kagawa Colas, did not dispute reports of her client’s detention. “We are aware of the situation with Brittney Griner in Russia and are in close contact with her, her legal representation in Russia, her family, her teams and the W.N.B.A. and N.B.A.,” she said.
Also on Saturday, the State Department, which for weeks had warned Americans against traveling to Russia, released an updated advisory urging U.S. citizens to leave the country immediately, citing the invasion in Ukraine, the “potential for harassment against U.S. citizens by Russian government security officials” and the limited ability of the U.S. Embassy in Moscow to assist American citizens in the country.
“I obviously don’t know the circumstances of her detention, but Griner’s arrest should serve as a wake-up call to all Americans in Russia,” said Michael A. McFaul, a former U.S. ambassador to Moscow. “Get out. Shut down your businesses now.”
[From The New York Times]
The NYT says that they can’t confirm how long Griner has been detained in Russia, but other outlets are saying that she was trying to fly out three weeks ago, which means that for three weeks, the WNBA, State Department and American embassy have been trying to negotiate her release quietly, with zero media attention, and then on Saturday, Russia released the news of her arrest and detention. None of this bodes well and everyone should be very worried about what they’re doing to her. Not just because she’s an American woman and not just because she’s a Black woman, but because she’s a queer Black American woman. Her family must be going through an absolute ordeal right now.
Photos courtesy of Avalon Red, Instagram.
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