By Spencer Westmoreland
After 295 days, WNBA star Brittney Griner was finally returned home,Thursday, Dec. 8, after being harshly imprisoned in Russia for a small dose of marijuana.
“She’s on her way home, after months of being unjustly detained in Russia, held under intolerable circumstances,” President Biden said when announcing her release. “Brittney will soon be back in the arms of her loved ones and she should have been there all along. This is a day we’ve worked toward for a long time. We never stopped pushing for her release.”
On February 17, 2022, Griner was detained at a Russian airport while traveling for her off-season team UMMC Ekaterinburg located in Russia. Customs found two cannabis based vape cartridges with about 0.7g of oil total.
Under the terms for her release, Griner was exchanged in a one-on-one prisoner swap with Russian arms dealer Viktor Bout whose sentence was cut short by 25 years.
This is a step in the right direction, but Griner was and is not the only American imprisoned.
Paul Whelan, who President Biden said, “we have not forgotten about,” is a United States marine who has been imprisoned in Russia for four years for espionage, which the U.S. has denied.
“(It was) a choice between bringing home one particular American — Brittney Griner — or bringing home none,” said U.S. officials when asked about the possible release for Whelan.
The U.S. had no other choice but to bring Griner home, and Biden made the right call but now there is no excuse not to push for the release of Whelan.
Russia has a strict drug policy but has been known to give out two weeks of jail time for 6 grams or less. Brittney Griner was sentenced to nine years. Many factors contribute to such a large sentence, like her being a public figure and a “political pawn” as the war rages on in Ukraine. Not only is Griner a famous American but she is also black and lesbian which makes Griner an easy target where racial and sexual discrimination has been been a problem, especially throughout the prison system.
The question is, why does she or any other WNBA player have to play in Russia? It has been widely known that WNBA players do not get paid fairly compared to their NBA counterparts. WNBA players are then forced overseas where they are able to make more money than playing right here on U.S. soil.
The NBA is able to make significantly more money because of the CBA agreement, allowing players to make 51% profit off things like jersey sales and TV time. That is not the case for the WNBA
This situation should be the deciding factor to finally raise WNBA players wages and implement some kind of CBA agreement. U.S. players should not have to leave the country in order to make the money they deserve, especially Russia.
Griner was imprisoned for 290 days too long, it almost felt like we were failing her as a nation. Not only did BG have to endure homophobia, racism, and poor living conditions but also had to deal with the thought that she may be spending 10 years in a Russian prison because the U.S. has failed to make a deal in the past.