Brittney Griner is one of the most prominent female athletes in the world, and not only for her talent on the basketball court. She is prominent for what she stands for when it comes to equality in sport. The award-winning basketball player, however, is in trouble after being wrongfully detained in Russia over 100 days ago. Her coach says that were she a famous male athlete, she would already be home.
Brittney Griner’s Coach Says that She Would Already be Home if She were a Famous Male Athlete
American WNBA player and one of the United States’ best basketball players Brittney Griner is in trouble. One week before Russian President Vladimir Putin invaded Ukraine, authorities at the Moscow airport detained Griner for allegedly having cannabis oil on her. She was traveling to Russia because, like most WNBA players, she has to play in the Euro league during the WNBA off-season to supplement her income. Griner has now been imprisoned in Russia for more than 150 days. If convicted, which is likely, she faces a 10 year prison sentence. (1)
To say the conditions she is currently living in are bad is an understatement. Former American detainee in Russia Trevor Reed described them as “medieval”. He said the jail often served them rotten food and there was next to no health care. (2)
“I did not sleep there for a couple of days. . . . too worried about who was in the cell with me.” he said on the podcast Not My Party, explaining that he was afraid his cellmate would kill him.
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Seventy-five days after Russian authorities detained Brittney Griner, the US Government officially classified her as “wrongfully detained”. Griner wrote a letter to President Biden asking for the government to not forget about American prisoners in Russia. Officials from the State Department are now in negotiations with Russia to release her. Allegedly, Russia is asking for a prisoner exchange. Specifically, the prisoner that they want is the notorious Russian arms dealer Viktor Bout. This man is also known as “the merchant of death”. (3)
On her 140th day of detention in Russia, Griner pleaded guilty to having the cannabis oil cartridges in her luggage. She did so as this was supposed to help expedite negotiations between the United States and Russian governments. So far, however, Griner is still behind Russian bars. (4)
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Famous Male vs Female Athlete
The head coach of the Phoenix Mercury, Brittney Griner’s American Team, Vanessa Nygaard has spoken out about the situation. She thinks that if Griner were a famous male basketball player, such as Lebron James, she’d be home already.
“If it was LeBron, he’d be home, right?” she questioned. “It’s a statement about the value of women. It’s a statement about the value of a Black person. It’s a statement about the value of a gay person. All of those things. We know it, and so that’s what hurts a little more.” (5)
Currently, the WNBA is playing without its star player, who many have called the Lebron of women’s basketball. Nygaard wonders if the United States government would allow the NBA’s star player to be detained for so long, causing him to miss the season.
Brittney Griner’s wrongful detainment in Russia, and the amount of time it is taking for the United States government to get her home, has brought up many debates. Firstly, it has brought up the difference in how we value male versus female athletics in sports. Many have quickly stated the same as Nygaard: That if it were Lebron James or Tom Brady, or any other top male athlete, they think negotiations would be moving much quicker.
Others have also pointed out that none of this would have happened in the first place if female athletes were paid equally to their male counterparts. Brittney Griner is one of the best, most accomplished players in American basketball. Despite this, she still has spend part of the year living in other countries and playing in the European league in order to make enough money. In fact, the bulk of most top WNBA players’ salaries are made overseas, not in the United States.
We can only hope that Brittney Griner will be okay and that soon she will come home to safety. Until then, our thoughts go out to her, her wife, her family, friends, and teammates.
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