We Need to Start Calling Brittney Griner What She Is: A Hostage


The House of Representatives announced they have passed Congressmen Greg Staton’s bipartisan resolution to push for the release of WNBA star Brittney Griner. In a recent interview, Terri Carmichael Jackson, executive director of the WNBA’s Player Association, said: 

 This resolution sends a clear message: that securing Brittney’s release must be the highest priority of the U.S. Government, and we know the American people support every effort made to bring her home.

It’s been over four months since WNBA star Brittney Griner was taken hostage at Sheremetyevo International Airport in Russia, allegedly for traveling with vape cartridges that contained THC, though evidence has thus far not been presented. Griner has continued to see her detention time extended before pretrial begins, based on “the requests of the investigators in the case.” Per the most recent extension Griner would be held in detention until July 2nd, and would then be presented before the court to decide when the trial will begin.That is if another extension is not granted. 

How Did We Get Here

Brittney Griner was originally detained February 17th in Moscow. She had just arrived in the country to play for UMMC Ekaterinburg, a Russian women’s basketball team that competes in Russia’s Premier League. Despite her rank as a 7 time WNBA All-Star, due to the salary caps in the WNBA, Griner, much like many other WNBA players, found themselves playing overseas in order to supplement their income. 

Per the initial statements made by Russian officials, Griner was allegedly found smuggling multiple cartridges that contained hashish oil in her luggage when she arrived. Though smuggling would indicate that Griner had the intention of hiding the cartridges, which thus far has not been proven, nor has evidence been presented.

While THC cartridges may seem like a minor offense to many who are reading this in the states, Griner has been charged with large scale transportation of drugs which in Russia can carry a penalty of up to 10 years in prison.

One Of These Things Is A Lot Like The Other

The extension of Griner’s detention came just days before Russia sentenced former US Embassy employee and English teacher Marc Fogel to 14 years in a maximum security penal colony for the same crime Griner is currently accused of. 

Fogel, who is now in his 60s, had a recent spinal surgery and was prescribed medical cannabis as part of his pain treatment. At the time of his detainment, which also occurred at Sheremetyevo International Airport, Fogel was in possession of a little over a half-ounce (17g) of cannabis.

Fogel was held in detention for almost a year before sentencing occurred. 

While it was not specified what maximum security facility Fogel would find himself in, one of the most well known is the MSPC located in Pokrov. In a recent Reuter’s investigation, reporters spoke with multiple former inmates who told the outlet that they were “subjected to beatings, medical neglect, and severe psychological pressure.”

While it is unclear what the fates hold for the WNBA star, the steps towards Griner’s freedom have been slow going at best. It was nearly three months into her detention before the U.S. Government declared she had been “wrongfully detained.” A statement released by a State Department spokesperson broke down what that means. 

The Department of State has determined that the Russian Federation has wrongfully detained U.S. citizen Brittney Griner. With this determination the Special Presidential Envoy to Hostage Affairs’ Roger Carsten will lead an interagency team for securing Brittney Griner’s release.

The Special Presidential Envoy to Hostage Affairs, which was established by executive order during the Obama administration in 2015, is tasked with leading and coordinating activities across the Executive branch to bring home hostages who are being held in other countries. 

Which is an important distinction when it comes to the makings of the Griner case. One that seems to not be talked about nearly enough. Per the United States government, Griner is being held hostage. 

It is time to bring Brittany Griner home. 

[Image source: Photo by TJ Dragotta on Unsplash]

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Chicana journalist, editor, educator, and organizer in Sacramento whose sole focus is to shed light on stories on our most impacted and marginalized communities, but even more importantly, for those stories to humanize those normally left out. She is an Ida B Wells Investigative Journalism Fellow 2022 Finalist, a member of the Parenting Journalists Society, and has bylines in The Courier, The Sacramento Bee, The Americano, Submerge Magazine among others.

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