The urgency to free WNBA legend Brittney Griner from a Russian jail is getting stronger by the minute. On Tuesday, a group of 1,200 prominent Black women in conjunction with the organization Win With Black Women penned an open letter in the Washington Post urging the White House to “make a deal” for her release. On Wednesday, President Joe Biden and Vice President Kamala Harris had a phone call with Griner’s wife Cherelle after they received a handwritten letter from Griner herself outlining her fears and hopes that the Administration will do whatever it takes to release her.
In the letter Griner wrote:
“As I sit here in a Russian prison, alone with my thoughts and without the protection of my wife, family, friends, Olympic jersey, or any accomplishments, I’m terrified I might be here forever. I realize you are dealing with so much, but please don’t forget about me and the other American detainees. Please do all you can to bring us home. I voted for the first time in 2020 and I voted for you. I believe in you. I still have so much good to do with my freedom that you can help restore. I miss my wife! I miss my family! I miss my teammates! It kills me to know they are suffering so much right now. I am grateful for whatever you can do at this moment to get me home.”
After the phone call, the White House stated that President Biden “offered his support to Cherelle and Griner’s family, and he committed to ensuring they are provided with all possible assistance while his administration pursues every avenue to bring Brittney home.”
All this comes at a critical point in Griner’s case. She is now officially on trial in Russia on drug smuggling charges and has been labeled as “wrongfully detained” by the State Department. She was first detained back in February, a few weeks before Russia’s invasion of Ukraine, on allegations of possessing cannabis oil and other narcotics, which according to Russian law subjects her to a prison sentence of up to 10 years.
However, Griner is only accused of carrying 0.7 grams of hashish oil and, according to Yahoo News, an individual in Russia is only supposed to be “fined or jailed for up to 15 days” if carrying less than two grams of hash.
There has been an ever growing movement starting with the WNBA to ensure that Griner is set free. Throughout the 2022 WNBA season, the hashtag #FreeBrittneyGriner has been circulating throughout social media. Players have donned shirts with Griner’s initials and number. Each team has her initials and number plastered on the court.
Griner’s case has also sparked long overdue discussions about the issue of the pay inequity within women’s basketball that compels some WNBA players to go overseas to make a living. Also, the question has been posed on whether she has been largely ignored due to the fact that she is an outspoken gay Black woman.
As a result, many advocacy groups at the intersections of race, gender, and sexuality have taken it upon themselves to take up her case. Among those groups is the National Black Justice Coalition, the nation’s leading organization advocating for the African-American LGBTQ+ community. They have been in regular contact with the State Department since Griner’s detainment became known.
Their deputy executive director Victoria York told Swish Appeal in an email interview that the letter Griner wrote to the President could be a potential catalyst even with a growing sense of frustration.
“The letter to President Biden from BG was powerful, personal, and vulnerable,” she said. “Reading it was likely emotional for the President and pushed an earlier meeting with Griner’s wife, Cherelle, to happen. I don’t know if it will speed up the process. Sadly, these kinds of negotiations can take months or years. However, there is no way the President moved from reading her letter without thinking about what he would be doing if it was Dr. Jill Biden being wrongfully detained in Russia or what he would want Dr. Biden to do if it was him locked in a cage.”
She also makes the point that now the ball is in Russian President Vladmir Putin’s court to come to help secure a deal, especially in light of what the prosecution determined the real offense was.
“Ultimately, it takes two to make a deal” York said. “I believe President Biden and his administration when he says they are doing everything possible to prioritize her safe and immediate return home. President Putin must also come to the table. I hope he read the same Russian prosecution testimony everyone around the world did highlighting that the amount of hashish oil allegedly found on her (0.7g) was an administrative offense and not a criminal offense.”
With the WNBA All-Star Game taking place in Chicago this Sunday, Brittney’s absence will certainly be felt as it has been all season. She won’t be forgotten as the league has already made her an honorary All-Star and is determined to continue advocating for her freedom.