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What We Know: Brittney Griner Arrested in Russia

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NCAA Basketball: Iowa State at Baylor
The Baylor Student section hold ups a Free Brittney sign for Brittney Griner as she is currently being detain in Russia, during the first half of a game against the Iowa State Cyclones at Ferrell Center.
Raymond Carlin III-USA TODAY Sports

A Russian news agency has identified Brittney Griner is the American basketball player that has been arrested by Russian customs agents on charges of possession of hashish oil.

According to reports, the oil was contained in cartridges that are used with vape pens, commonly used to consume CBD, nicotine, and cannabis. According to Russian officials, the arrest occurred in February, meaning Griner has been in custody overseas for an extended period of time, up to 3 weeks according to some statements.

Griner is one of the premiere women’s basketball players on the planet, boasting championships at the college, pro, and international level, including FIBA and Olympic gold medals. A transcendent talent, Griner made a name for herself playing at Baylor with her ability dunk, as well as her magnificent shot blocking abilities, leading the Bears to the first 40-0 record in NCAA history in 2012. Griner was selected as the number one overall pick in the 2013 WNBA draft by the Phoenix Mercury, and went on to win a WNBA championship in just her second season. In the WNBA, she is a 7-time All-Star, 2-time scoring leader, and 2-time defensive player of the year.

Like many female athletes, Griner does not make the same money as her male counterparts in American competition. To supplement her WNBA salary (roughly $228K per year, recently increased after the latest WNBA Collective Bargaining Agreement), Griner plays basketball overseas during the offseason where salaries are usually much larger. According to some reports, players like Griner have earned over $1.5 million playing in the Russian league, where she has played since 2014. During the 2013-1014 offseason, she played in China for 4 months, earning $600K, 12 times her WNBA rate at that time.

At the moment, it is not known the amount of oil officials are claiming that Griner was carrying, though different amounts can carry different punishments. Possession of up to 6 grams of cannabis (or 2 grams of hashish), is an “administrative offense”, which normally only carries a fine or up to 15 days of detention. Larger amounts, or the belief that trafficking is involved, can carry a penalty of up to 10 years in prison. According to the New York Times, the Russian Customs Service were investigating “large-scale transportation of drugs”.

Griner’s arrest in Russia would be a terrifying situation in the best of circumstances. She is a notable American in a country with a less than ideal relationship with the West and she is an openly gay woman. Russia is currently rated at a 34 out of 100 by equaldex.com, a site that tracks progress of LGBTQ+ rights across the world. Russia has no laws that limit discrimination against people based on their sexuality, and it is a country known to be openly opposed and hostile to people outside of heterosexual relationships.

Beyond those social issues, there is of course the largest international event in the world right now, the current Russian invasion of Ukraine. Americans have been urged to leave Russia as soon as possible, as the US and its allies are levying tough sanctions on Russia due to their egregious and unwarranted attack on Ukraine. Russia has vowed to strike back at countries who assist Ukraine, and it is believed by some in the US government that arresting people such as Griner are a part of that desire to find ways to attack America. “This follows a pattern of Russia wrongly detaining & imprisoning US citizens, including Trevor Reed,” Representative Joaquin Castro of Texas, wrote on Twitter. “US citizens are not political pawns. Brittney, Trevor, and other Americans must be safely returned.” Reed is a former US Marine who was sentenced to 9 years in prison in Russia for assaulting police officers, a charge that he and his family maintain is fraudulent.

The US Secretary of State, Antony Blinken, is aware of the situation and is currently looking at solutions to Griner’s detainment, stating “whenever an American is detained anywhere in the world, we of course stand ready to provide every possible assistance, and that includes Russia.” The US Deputy Assistant Secretary of Defense for Russia and Ukraine from 2012 to 2015, Evelyn Farkas, said Griner could be used as a “high profile hostage” for Russia. Farkas said “If we want her out of jail, Russia going to have some terms. It could be a prisoner swap. They could also use it as an implicit threat or blackmail to get us to do something or not do something, either way they find it useful.”

No matter the reasoning or the motives behind the arrest, Griner’s friends, family, and fans want her home. Griner’s wife, Cherelle Griner, wrote on Instagram, “Your prayers and support are greatly appreciated. I love my wife wholeheartedly, so this message comes during one of the weakest moments of my life. I understand that many of you have grown to love [Griner] over the years and have concerns and want details. Please honor our privacy as we continue to work on getting my wife home safely.”

Note that with this story involving very complex international politics, information will potentially be sparse and conflicting at times, but OurDailyBears will do our best to keep Baylor Nation informed. What we do know is that we want Brittney home safe, and as quickly as possible.