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Restrained in Russia

By Sahir Bhatia

In February 2022, news of the war between Russia and Ukraine in Europe shocked the world. In the same month, WNBA player Brittney Griner was detained in Moscow.

Offered four times the amount of money WNBA all-stars generally receive, Griner and other WNBA players often travel to Russia to play basketball during the offseason. On February 17, 2022, WNBA superstar Brittney Griner was arrested at Sheremetyevo International Airport in Moscow on drug charges. Griner was found with vape cartridges and cannabis oil in her luggage, leading to Russian police opening an investigation. Griner remained in custody in Moscow until July 2022, when she pleaded guilty to drug charges. On August 4, she was found guilty by the court and sentenced to nine years in prison.

Artwork by Debarati Chowdhury

Brittney Griner admits to smuggling drugs into Russia, confining her within Russian boundaries.

Since Griner’s arrest in February, many efforts have been made to get her back to the US. The WNBA has voiced their opinions on the matter. WNBA commissioner Cathy Engelbert has been tirelessly working with the US government to work out a way to get Griner home.

Many of Griner's fellow WNBA players have sent supportive messages to her while she has been in custody. The WNBA Players Association has shared statements siding with Griner, and Griner's wife has met with President Biden. The US government has been looking to negotiate a prisoner exchange with Russia after President Biden formally called on Russia to release her immediately for wrongful detainment.

“I think it was a stretch to detain her in a foreign country. It’s essentially on the same level as holding a prisoner of war,” sophomore Alexander Tomalski said.

Aside from the impact that Griner's arrest has had on the WNBA, WNBPA and the US government, the arrest has resulted in outrage by many people on social media.

“I think it highlights the implicit bias so many governments have across the world, especially without acknowledging it. It’s not even a question of whether or not her imprisonment was justified, it’s a question of whether or not the same imprisonment could’ve happened to a male in that situation,” sophomore Deborah Aderibigbe said.

“I believe that if it had been a male basketball player arrested in Russia, more measures would be taken to free them,” sophomore Dylan Sanichara said.

As of October 2022, Griner remains in Russian prison waiting for an appeal on her trial.

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