#Free BG


Brittney Griner goes up against Las Vegas Aces’s Kiah Stokes. (Source: Ethan Miller)

On October 17, 2021, Brittney Griner walked off the court of the Women’s National Basketball Association (WNBA) Championships for potentially her last time. Despite losing the game, Griner left the arena with pride, having scored 28 points and done everything possible for her team. She also remained confident, believing that the following year she would lead her team, the Phoenix Mercury, back to win it all.

That, however, did not come true. Exactly four months later on February 17, 2022, Griner was detained at the Sheremetyevo International Airport in Moscow, Russia. Despite being one of the greatest players in the WNBA, Griner had been competing overseas to support her family due to her low salary. Arrested for carrying hashish cartridges and subsequently sent to prison in Russia, she became difficult to locate and contact.

Athletes and fans alike began to raise awareness about Griner’s detainment in an attempt to bring her home. The Boston Celtics wore t-shirts that read “We Are BG” during the National Basketball Association finals; Lebron James pushed for Griner’s return, saying, “We need to come together and help do whatever we possibly can to bring BG home quickly and safely.”

In a country with a legal system that acquits less than one percent of defendants on average, the gravity of Griner’s situation became immediately apparent.

After extending her detention three times, the Russian government held Grinner’s trial in early August. She was sentenced to nine years in prison, a verdict that President Joe Biden deemed “unacceptable.” Griner had only made the simple mistake of forgetting to remove her drug cartridges when hastily packing. Many Boston Latin School student athletes, such as Mina Breen (I), are upset, saying, “Taking into consideration that Russia did not explain her rights to her beforehand and that her intentions had been honest, Griner’s sentence was simply too harsh.”

The injustice of Griner’s case is clear. Such a minor mistake shouldn’t lead to nine years of prison in a foreign country, separated from family and the sport that one loves. Griner also explained that, during her arrest, her interpreter was unclear; Griner was told to sign documents that she could not read, was not given access to a lawyer and Griner’s identity as a Black LGBTQ+ woman makes her situation even more difficult. Ellyn Ruthstrom, executive director of SpeakOUT Boston, expresses, “How horrible it is for a gay woman of color [to be made] a political pawn.”

Currently, there are rumors circulating about the possibility of a prisoner swap. Although this could potentially mean that Griner would return home, the very fact that her freedom is being valued at that of people like Viktor Bout is absurd. Bout, known as the “Merchant of Death,” is a convicted arms dealer arrested for conspiring to kill Americans. Equating Griner’s allegations to Bout’s highlights the injustice of her situation.

The Biden administration claims they are doing everything they can to get Griner home. On September 16, 2022, Biden met with Cherelle Griner, Brittney’s wife who had pushed for her release during the past seven months. Biden assured her that Griner is “at the front of [his] mind.”

Even beyond those directly connected to Griner or avid fans of the WNBA, there are others concerned about her arrest. Natalie Poftak (I) says that “the lengths to which Russia has gone to detain Griner and convict her for what’s considered completely legal in a state like Massachusetts” is disturbing.

Earlier this year, when the 2022 WNBA season began and the Phoenix Mercury started playing — without Griner — her presence was still acknowledged. Every player, coach and spectator was there to enjoy basketball, but also would, as the Phoenix Mercury say, “not allow her to be forgotten.” Until Brittney Griner comes home, people will continue to fight for her freedom.