WNBA player on Brittney Griner speaks honest truth, ‘If this was Shaq, she’d be home.’

·4 min read
Tony Gutierrez (Baylor); Alexander Zemlianichenko (Russia)/Associated Press

A prominent American remains detained in Russia because Brittney Griner is not as prominent as her supporters want to believe.

Because Brittney Griner plays in the WNBA, not the NBA.

Because Brittney Griner is a woman.

Since we’re being honest, it doesn’t help that Brittney Griner is gay, too.

Since Brittney Griner was a star at Baylor, she always stood out.

She is now stuck in the bizarre circumstance because she doesn’t stand out enough.

“This shows how women are fighting for equality and we still have to fight even when it’s an American stuck in a Russian jail,” said Arike Ogunbowale of the WNBA’s Dallas Wings in a recent interview. “If this is LeBron James or Steph Curry, they’d be home.”

All true.

Griner has been one of the top players in women’s basketball since she started at Baylor in 2009. She won an NCAA national title. She can dunk. She led Team USA to an Olympic gold medal.

That’s not enough currency, nor clout.

Today, she’s locked in a jail in Russia since her arrest in February after customs officials claimed she had vape cartridges with hashish oil.

According to the Associated Press, a court date for Griner is set for Friday, but she was ordered to remain in custody. Her detention there was extended six months.

She could face 10 years in prison. According to the AP: “Fewer than 1 percent of defendants in Russian criminal cases are acquitted, and unlike in the U.S., acquittals can be overturned.”

Like a lot of top American women’s basketball players, Griner was playing in Russia because it can be so lucrative.

Now, she’s a political pawn with not enough status to be a political priority.

Because we have forgotten about Brittney Griner.

Since we’re being honest, we forgot there is a war in Ukraine, too.

On Feb. 24, Russia invaded Ukraine and the Western world condemned Russian president Vladimir Putin’s grandiose expansion plans.

Traditional media outlets and social media flooded the world with the surreal horrific images of war. Nearly five months later, the war continues but the headlines and the cries to do something fade daily.

Ogunbowale was in Russia playing professionally at the time of the invasion, and getting out was not exactly easy.

“She’s a pawn in this game and (Russian officials) know she’s an important part of the WNBA,” Ogunbowale said.

Which is the problem.

Not the pawn part. The WNBA part.

Gabriel Castro is an attorney who works in Santa Clara, California. He specializes in immigration law, and he has worked with NBA, WNBA and NHL teams to handle visa issues.

“If this had happened in 200 other countries she would have been home by now,” Castro said in a phone interview. “She would have been released prior to trial. It’s 100% not common for someone of her prominence to be detained this long for such a small, small infraction.”

Castro said under normal circumstances this sort of ordeal would be handled with “a few phone calls,” via a lawyer on the ground in Russia; there would also need to be some type of connections to the State Department.

It would be a complicated matter that would require some time, but it would be doable.

Griner remains stuck in a Russian jail because the United States imposed sanctions on Russia as a result of its invasion.

Castro figures Griner is detained “not in a Four Seasons, but it’s not a place that would violate human rights. Still, it’s not good,” he said.

One potential scenario to expedite this is an exchange — Griner returns to the U.S. in a trade for Russian nationals imprisoned in the U.S.

Castro said Griner’s status does carry weight in Russia.

“She’s a celebrity held against her will and there is a political aspect to this,” he said. “She does have value here, but we are not going to end sanctions over a detainee by any means.”

She does have value here.

The question is, to what degree? The four-and-a-half-month answer is, “Not enough.”

Which is the part that rankles her friends, teammates and colleagues in the WNBA.

Because they feel Brittney Griner should be enough for the United States to make her a priority to bring her home.

Dallas Wings forward Satou Sabally said, “Let’s be honest.

“If this was Shaq, he’d be home.”

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