Three weeks. That’s roughly how long seven-time WNBA All-Star and two-time Olympic gold medalist Brittney Griner has been detained in Russia for allegedly having hashish oil in her luggage—though, the real amount of time the basketball phenom has been locked up is anyone’s guess.
This is terrifying for several reasons. Most notably: Griner is a queer Black woman trapped in Russia—a country that uses state-sponsored homophobia to maintain power—in the middle of a war and humanitarian crisis. Russia President Vladimir Putin is, obviously, a murderous dictator who’s very angry at the United States for opposing his violent, unjustified invasion of Ukraine. This is ... very much looking like a hostage situation, in a country notorious for taking hostages. And no one seems to be explaining how they plan to get Griner the fuck out of there??
Reporters and fans alike have been clamoring for information: any indication at all that Griner is safe, that she’s being fed, that negotiations are taking place, or that there is any sort of plan to extract the 31-year-old and return her to her wife, Cherelle Griner, and her family. Instead, here’s the concerningly little that we currently know: Griner, who plays overseas during the WNBA off season, was reportedly stopped at an airport near Moscow after she was discovered to be transporting vape cartridges containing hashish oil or marijuana concentrate. According to the New York Times, who first reported Griner’s detainment, Griner’s agent, Lindsay Kagawa Colas, confirmed her client’s detention, saying, “We are aware of the situation with Brittney Griner in Russia and are in close contact with her.” (Kagawa Colas did not respond to Jezebel’s request for further comment.)
We know that Griner’s arrest happened some time in February, but we don’t know the exact date. We know that in Russia, being caught with six grams of cannabis or less is a civil offense, but the Times noted that Griner could be convicted for “large-scale transportation of drugs” (which, as far as we know, is bullshit) and could face up to 10 years in prison. We also know that Russia has been known to detain Americans on exaggerated charges. And we know that the possibility of Griner being fashioned as a war time bargaining chip between Putin and the states is, unfortunately, very high.
While the WNBA, its player’s union, the Mercury, and USA Basketball have all released statements of support, the government has provided a much less enthusiastic response. “Our diplomatic relationships with Russia are nonexistent at the moment,” Democratic Rep. John Garamendi of California told CNN on Monday, while Secretary of State Antony Blinken said Sunday, “Whenever an American is detained anywhere in the world, we, of course, stand ready to provide every possible assistance, and that includes in Russia.”
But Brittney Griner is not just any American. Griner is a legend in the WNBA. In the off season, she’s a legend in Russia, where she reportedly earns more than $1 million per season and recently brought the MMC Ekaterinburg its fifth EuroLeague Women’s championship in 2021. Still, as The Nation’s Dave Zirin wrote, it was “as if no one noticed she was missing, no small feat for an athlete who is six foot nine.” The American response to the high-profile loss of one its own oozes with apathy. So, we’re forced to ask uncomfortable questions. What if it was Steph Curry? What if it was Jalen Ramsey? What if it was a straight white woman? None of them are any more American than Brittney fucking Griner.
For as many fans who are livid and disgusted by Griner’s detainment, she’s just another woman on a short albeit frightening list of kidnapped or disappearing women athletes. On International Women’s Day of all days, we’re reminded that Griner wouldn’t have to play overseas, far removed from her family and friends, if it weren’t for the systematic devaluation of women athletes in America, and the ever-disparate gap between women’s and men’s basketball salaries. Somehow, this is where an extraordinary woman like Griner has found herself: at the axis of the fight for LGBTQ+ rights, the push to decriminalize weed, the ongoing battle for equal rights and an anti-racist world for Black women, and now, the strained political warfare between two worldly powers. There is Brittney Griner, at the center of it all. But we still have no idea if she will ever come home.
To all those who “celebrate” International Women’s Day, say her fucking name. Demand her release. Do not let yet another young Black woman go missing without so much as a shrug. And bring Brittney Griner home.