Brittney Griner Situation Intensifies, Public Outrage Rises

On May 13, Russian authorities extended WNBA star Brittney Griner’s pre-trial detention for one month, according to Russian media sources. Griner, who is currently detained in Russia after attempting to return to the U.S., was taken into custody on Feb. 17 after airport officials allegedly found cannabis-derived vape cartridges in her luggage.

According to NBC News, Russian drug laws are particularly strict compared to the rest of Europe, as the country imprisons more people per capita for drug crimes than any European country. Griner is facing the possibility of five to 10 years in prison. Although Griner could take a plea deal during her trial, she is still likely to serve some portion of time in jail.

Griner plays for the Phoenix Mercury and has won two Olympic gold medals with Team USA. For the past seven years, she has played in Russia during the WNBA offseason, playing this past year for UMMC Ekaterinburg. According to ESPN, she has made over $1 million per year while playing in Russia, more than four times her WNBA salary.

The absence of Griner, the seven-time All-Star, six-foot-nine-inch center who led the WNBA in blocks in the 2021 season, has left a hole in Phoenix’s starting lineup this season. The team will have to rely heavily on Tina Charles, who averaged 23.4  points per game in the 2021 season, and Brianna Turner for steals and blocks on the defensive end.

Griner’s teammates will have to deal with the loss of both an irreplicable player and friend. In an interview with ESPN, teammate Skylar-Diggins Smith said, “We think about her every day. We love her and we’re gonna continue to carry her legacy, her voice and play in her honor until she gets back here with us.”

Griner’s team, family, friends and many more have advocated for her release. Hillary Clinton published a “Free Brittney” tweet in support of freeing Griner from her detention.

WNBA Commissioner Cathly Engelbert said that the State Department recommends fewer public statements and more private efforts to free Griner, according to ESPN. The State Department has been conservative in terms of releasing more information about the situation, as it is prohibited for U.S. officials to provide personal information about any American citizen arrested or detained overseas without written consent.

As the world watches and waits for Griner’s trial, her future is still undetermined.