Britney Griner, the 31 year old WNBA star player, has been detained for an additional two months by a Russian court. She was initially detained in February after arriving at Russia’s Sheremetyevo airport in Moscow from New York and was accused of drug smuggling of cannabis oil. She arrived just prior to the outbreak of war between Russia and Ukraine.
Griner, who plays for the Phoenix Mercury of the WNBA, has played for the Russian team Ekaterinburg in the Euroleague since 2015. Many WNBA players also play overseas during the offseason to supplement their salaries which are much lower than NBA players.
Many observers believe that she is being held as a hostage because the United States is leading the NATO effort to enforce sanctions against Russia to force an end to the war. While this may be true, she may also have broken local Russian law. Her story is a powerful reminder that the laws and civil liberties that Americans take for granted stop at the U.S border. Foreign countries have distinct cultures and laws that may not match the U.S.
Sports and the athletes that play them sometimes become players in the unfamiliar game of international politics. We see this with the Olympics and other high profile events. We hope that Britney will be fairly treated.
Britney Griner was released on December 8, 2022 after 10 months of captivity. She was part of a prisoner swap for an imprisoned Russian arms dealer.