On Saturday, March 5, Russia announced the arrest of WNBA all-star Brittney Griner with drug convictions that could have the player looking at a ten-year prison sentence abroad. Considering recent events leading to a war between Ukraine and Russia after the Russian invasion at the end of February, it is evident as to why this situation is more than problematic.
Video evidence portrays two-time Olympic gold medalist Brittany Griner transiting through an airport security checkpoint at the Sheremetyevo airport outside Moscow, Russia. According to the Russian Customs Service, Griner was detained for possession of cannabis vape tube Cartridges in her luggage.
Various media outlets exposed information on her detainment back in February, although news of her arrest was just recently confirmed Saturday by TASS, a Russian news agency. Griner is the center for the WNBA’s Phoenix Mercury and one of the most dominant players in the WNBA, holding two gold Olympic medals. She is a seven-time all-star and was the No.1 player overall in 2013.
Griner was in Russia training during the off-season for a professional basketball league. She has played for UMMC Ekaterinberg, a Russian team, for several years now. This off-season training format is a common trend seen with most athletes of her status, such as; fellow WNBA league all-stars Jonquel Jones Courtney Vandersloot, among others.
Due to the fact, “the maximum base salary for WNBA players is about $228,000, but international teams have been known to pay several hundred thousand dollars, and even more than $1 million.” That said, nearly half of the WNBA players in the League choose to train internationally in the winter for increased income.
Despite the financial assets of playing abroad and bearing in mind the recent events regarding the geopolitical disharmony between Russia and Ukraine, all domestic US players in both countries fled immediately upon the news of the invasion. This political situation raises further concern and pressure on Griner’s family, friends, fans, and colleagues for her swift arrival back to the United States. The WNBA is showing total support in hopes of a safe return home.
Further statements have been reported recently by government officials and those closest to Griner. Griner’s former coach expresses her confusion about the drug accusations while expressing her fear of this domestic and internationally known basketball legend being used as a “political bargaining chip.”
The use of cannabis within the professional athletic atmosphere in the United States has become increasingly common due to its positive effects on the body. For example, athletes that suffer from various conditions such as anxiety and inflammation.
It has been reported that nearly 80% of NFL players use cannabis due to its ability to help players focus under stressful situations. The concern around Brittany’s detainment is focused more on her physical safety and well-being as opposed to the unconfirmed “drug convictions.”
Sheila Jackson Lee, of the US House of Representatives, states, “We know that there were some issues dealing with vape cartridges and other items, but let me be very clear, Brittney Griner is a United States citizen; she was a guest in Russia … and I will be demanding her release.”
Though recent Instagram posts by Griner’s wife and family suggest her detainment in Russia, the White House press secretary, Jen Psaki, could not comment on Griner’s holding due to federal privacy law. Regardless, further actions are being discussed to ensure Griner’s safe return home.