Last Updated on August 4, 2022
WNBA basketball player Brittney Griner was sentenced to 9 years in a Russian prison on drug possession and smuggling charges today after she pleaded guilty to a Russian court last month. Griner was arrested in February when entering Russia to play for a women’s basketball team after authorities found THC vape cartridges in her luggage. While the cartridges are legal in some parts of the United States, marijuana is strictly prohibited under Russian drug laws.
American citizen Brittney Griner offered an apology to Russian authorities when she was sentenced to prison time at a court in Khimki, just outside of Moscow. Griner, who plays for US Women’s National Team and the WNBA’s Phoenix Mercury, was traveling to Russia to play for a women’s basketball team, UMMC Ekaterinburg.
Due to the WNBA’s lower wages as a result of low revenue generation, many women’s pros travel to play in foreign leagues during the offseason to maximize their earnings.
Griner’s attorneys have argued that she uses the marijuana-derived treatments for pain in the United States and that she mistakenly packed them for her trip to Russia. On the contrary, Russian authorities say that she deliberately packed and concealed the cartridges, hence the smuggling charges in addition to possession.
“I want to apologize to my teammates, my club, my fans, and the city for my mistake that I made and the embarrassment that I brought on them,” Griner told the Russian court. “I want to also apologize to my parents, my siblings, the Phoenix Mercury organization back at home, the amazing women of the WNBA, and my amazing spouse back at home.”
Since Griner’s arrest, rumors have swirled that she will be part of a prisoner exchange between Russia and the United States, in order to keep her from serving time as a foreign national in the notoriously tough Russian prison system. According to Biden Secretary of State Anthony Blinken, an offer was made to the Russians. In exchange for Griner and another American, Paul Whelan, Blinken said the Biden Administration was willing to trade notorious Russian arms trafficker Viktor Bout, who is imprisoned in the United States.
Russia rejected the offer at the time it was made, saying they wouldn’t negotiate until Griner was convicted and sentenced. The status of negotiations at the current time is unclear.
Since her detention in Russia began, Griner and the efforts made to recover her, at the expense of a man labeled by many as an international terrorist, have come under scrutiny from some. When the WNBA joined other professional sports leagues in bashing America, protesting the National Anthem and the flag, Griner was among those leading the charge.
Beyond merely kneeling for the National Anthem, Griner refused to be present altogether, even demanding that the Anthem and flag ceremony be eliminated from WNBA competitions.
Brittney Griner actively refused to be present during the playing of the U.S. National Anthem before games, and even demanded the Anthem and flag ceremony be avoided in all games.
I wonder what it feels like now with her begging the Red, White and Blue to come to her rescue? pic.twitter.com/Q9WHSU2SlB
— Errol Webber (@ErrolWebber) July 7, 2022
NBA star LeBron James who, like Griner, has played a leading role in basketball’s embrace of anti-Americanism, recently questioned in an episode of HBO’s “The Shop: Interrupted” why Griner would want to return to America at all, seeming to suggest that wasting away in a Russian prison is better than being a rich professional athlete in the wealthiest country in the world.
“Over 110 days, now how could she feel like America has her back? I would be feeling like, ‘Do I even want to go back to America?” James said.