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Every week earlier than Russia invaded Ukraine on Feb. 24, 2022, Russian authorities arrested American basketball star Brittney Griner on the Moscow airport. She was charged with drug smuggling after Russian officers allegedly discovered vape cartridges containing oil derived from hashish in her baggage.
Since her arrest on Feb. 17, Griner has been locked up in a Russian jail. It’s a stark distinction to her life as a millionaire athlete enjoying in skilled basketball leagues in each the USA and, for the final seven years, Russia, the place she earns almost 4 instances as a lot as her almost US$282,000 annual WNBA wage.
Hypothesis on the explanation for Griner’s arrest facilities on Russian President Vladimir Putin’s alleged need to make use of the American star as a geopolitical pawn at a time when U.S.-Russian relations had been at their lowest level for the reason that Chilly Warfare. After which the Russian invasion of Ukraine occurred, and U.S.-Russian relations have develop into worse.
One other American, Paul Whelan, who’s white, stays in Russian detention after greater than two years since his 2020 conviction on espionage expenses.
Although U.S.-Russia relations have gotten worse since Russia’s invasion of Ukraine, the sudden launch of Trevor Reed on April 28, 2022, was a optimistic signal for Griner’s supporters.
A former U.S. Marine, Reed was held for the final three years in Russia on expenses stemming from an alleged battle with a Russian police officer. He was exchanged for Konstantin Yaroshenko, a Russian pilot serving a 20-year federal sentence for conspiring to smuggle cocaine into the USA.
Such an change could also be within the works with Griner.
After almost three months of silence on Griner, the Biden administration on Could 3 declared that Griner had been “wrongfully detained” and, as such, the U.S. authorities would work extra aggressively to safe her launch even whereas the Russian authorized case towards Griner proceeds.
Lacking Black ladies
As a scholar of Black ladies’s our bodies, one in all my main considerations for Griner is whether or not her id as a homosexual Black girl makes her or dangerous pawn.
Traditionally and even now, Black ladies have been represented as lower than regular
by white female requirements, making the worth of Black homosexual ladies even much less. And given the dearth of media consideration targeted on the disappearance of Black women and girls – estimated within the U.S. to whole 90,000 in 2021 – it appeared that Griner’s case would by no means obtain the publicity that’s rising now.
Began in Could 2022 on change.org, a petition drive calling for Griner’s launch has almost reached its purpose of 150,000 signatures.
As well as, NBA Commissioner Adam Silver mentioned he’s working “aspect by aspect” with WNBA Commissioner Cathy Engelbert on bringing Griner dwelling.
“We’ve been in contact with the White Home, the State Division, hostage negotiators, each stage of presidency and likewise by means of the personal sector as properly,” Silver mentioned throughout an interview on ESPN. “Our No. 1 precedence is her well being and security and ensuring that she will get out of Russia.”
The Griner case gained extra consideration when Invoice Richardson, a former U.S. ambassador to the United Nations, joined the crew of negotiators.
Richardson has labored privately for years as a global hostage negotiator and helped safe the discharge of Reed.
A global star
At 6 toes, 8 inches tall, Griner, 31, stands out in a crowd. In her e book, “In My Pores and skin: My Life On and Off the Basketball Court docket,” Griner particulars her life as a extraordinarily tall Black girl sporting dimension 17 males’s footwear and whose outstretched arms measure 88 inches from fingertip to fingertip.
She additionally wrote in regards to the stigma she endured as a homosexual girl.
Throughout her time at Baylor College, the personal Christian college banned gay conduct.
“It was laborious,” Griner mentioned in an interview. “Simply being picked on for being completely different, simply being larger, my sexuality, the whole lot.”
“I overcame it and obtained over it,” she continued. “Undoubtedly one thing that I’m very captivated with. I need to work with youngsters and produce recognition to the issue, particularly with the LGBT neighborhood.”
Since these early days in faculty, Griner has develop into a number one advocate for the LGBT neighborhood, publicly talking about gender, physique picture, shallowness and sexuality.
It didn’t harm that Griner is taken into account one of many world’s greatest ladies’s basketball gamers.
Her resume consists of an NCAA championship in 2012 with Baylor, a 2014 WNBA championship with the Phoenix Mercury, two Olympic gold medals for the U.S., three Russia Girls’s Basketball Premier League championships and 4 EuroLeague championships.
In her seventh season in Russia, Griner’s final sport with the Russian membership UMMC Ekaterinburg was on Jan. 29, almost three weeks earlier than her arrest.
Breaking the silence
A part of the preliminary silence within the Griner case was the reluctance amongst U.S. State Division officers to publicly focus on it.
The so-called strategic silence by the Biden Administration has additionally performed out amongst Griner’s supporters, together with Engelbert, the WNBA commissioner, who mentioned they heeded recommendation to stay low key.
U.S. Rep. Sheila Jackson Lee, a Democrat representing Griner’s dwelling state of Texas, was one of many few who wasn’t silent and demanded her launch.
“Underneath the circumstances,” Lee mentioned on March 3,, “I’m clearly involved and imagine the actions of the Russian Federal Customs officers was pointless. And it was, in my perspective, focused and purposeful.”
In the meantime, at a short listening to on Could 13, 2022, a handcuffed Griner appeared in Russian court docket sporting an orange hoodie together with her face down. Her detention was prolonged one other month earlier than a trial. She faces as much as 10 years if discovered responsible.
Her legal professional, Alexander Boykov, advised the Related Press that Griner didn’t categorical “any complaints in regards to the detention situations” in the course of the listening to.
In an earlier assertion, Ned Worth, a spokesperson for the State Division, mentioned that Griner acquired a consular go to on March 23 and was in “good situation” and “doing in addition to might be anticipated underneath these very tough circumstances.”
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Nonetheless, there stays uncertainty on how laborious the U.S. will battle for a high-profile homosexual Black girl at a time of deteriorating relations with Russia.
In my opinion, the U.S. authorities has ignored Black ladies, LGBTQ folks and those that exist on the intersections for a very long time, however the U.S. will acknowledge and handle conditions the place residents are white, male and never public figures.
The U.S. should now resolve the best way to defend a citizen who’s not one of the above.
Distinguished sports activities author Jemele Hill instructed at this level in U.S.-Russian relations that it might be ironic if Griner’s work in Russia gave her the good thing about the doubt in Russian court docket.
“If Griner has even a modest quantity of leverage in Russia,” Hill writes, “it’s as a result of she has had a rare profession with Ekaterinburg.”
Ironic or not, one factor is evident: U.S. public assist for her launch is lastly gaining momentum and is symbolized by the WNBA’s resolution in Could 2022 to put a ground decal of Griner’s initials and No. 42, her uniform quantity, on the house court docket sideline of all 12 of its groups.
Whereas it is a good present of assist, will the U.S. assist Brittney Griner the best way its helped Trevor Reed?
Rokeshia Renné Ashley doesn’t work for, seek the advice of, personal shares in or obtain funding from any firm or group that will profit from this text, and has disclosed no related affiliations past their educational appointment.