Skip links

Brittney Griner’s Fight for Freedom

Brittney Griner speaks to the world through pictures these days. In mid-May, nearly three months into her detention in Russia for carrying cannabis oil in her luggage at a Moscow airport, fans of the WNBA superstar saw a stark image of Griner in a courtroom, handcuffed and head bowed, a figure of defeat, her face obscured, braids dangling from a hooded sweatshirt. We saw her eyes in June, at another hearing, but they were popping, frightened, and bewildered. The courtroom cameras stunned her.

As one of the most dominant players in the history of women’s basketball, Griner—affectionately known as BG to friends and fans—has always represented something bigger than just athletic excellence. As an out gay woman who has overcome bullying, hate, and alienation, she has served as inspiration, especially to fellow members of the LGBTQ+ community, for how to live out loud and proud. Now, “wrongly detained” in the euphemistic lingo of international diplomacy, Griner unwittingly has come to stand for even more.

Griner is the most visible detainee among thousands taken by Russia amid its invasion of Ukraine this year, a high-profile prisoner exploited by a regime looking to showcase the limits of American power. Her imprisonment advances President Vladimir Putin’s efforts to humble U.S. President Joe Biden, who has been simultaneously criticized for failing to win Griner’s release and for prioritizing her case over those of other long-detained Americans abroad. At home, Griner’s detention has fueled outrage at the lack of equal rights for LGBTQ+ and Black people, an inequity long exploited by Moscow’s propagandists but nonetheless evident everywhere in American society.

President Biden has approved a plan to offer the release of convicted arms dealer Viktor Bout in exchange for the Russians’ release of Griner and Paul Whelan, an American held captive in Russia for more than three years, sources familiar with the matter tell TIME. Moscow “should be interested” in the offer “based on their prior representations,” a senior Administration official says, but as of July 27 had not responded to the offer. That leaves Griner at the mercy of the Russian judicial system, long criticized in the U.S. and Europe as subject to the whims of Moscow’s leaders. Griner’s Russian lawyers have told authorities that U.S. doctors prescribed her medical cannabis. She pleaded guilty, arguing that she accidentally packed the prohibited substance in haste. On July 27, Griner testified that when she was initially interrogated at the airport, much of the communication was left untranslated.

Continue Reading… (via

Leave a comment