Russian state media reported over the weekend that U.S. basketball star Brittney Griner was detained at the airport with cannabis vape cartridges in her suitcase, but there are no public details on when she was arrested, where she is being detained, or why she did not leave Russia with other U.S. athletes right after the country invaded Ukraine on Feb. 24. The WNBA said Saturday that all of its players, except Griner, are out of Russia.
Griner has spent her entire professional career with the Phoenix Mercury, but like many WNBA players, she spends the offseason playing overseas, where basketball players can earn significantly more money. Griner has played for the Russian team UMMC Ekaterinburg since 2015, and she helped them win the EuroLeague Women championship last year. She is one of the world’s best women’s basketball players and one of the most prominent openly gay athletes.
Griner’s friends, fans, fellow WNBA players, and wife are concerned that she will become a political pawn as Russia faces unprecedented global sanctions and isolation due to its Ukraine invasion. Getting her out of Russia is “going to be very difficult,” Rep. John Garamendi (D-Calif.) told CNN. “Our diplomatic relationships with Russia are nonexistent at the moment,” and it’s also concerning that “Russia has some very, very strict LGBT rules and laws.”
“Public demands by American officials for the release of Americans detained abroad typically have little effect on foreign captors,” The New York Times reports. “Such cases are frequently resolved through behind-the-scenes diplomacy,” and “some analysts said that elevating the case into the political arena with angry demands could make it more difficult to resolve and put pressure on the other country to not be seen as giving in without a clear win.”
Sports journalist Tamryn Spruill told CNN on Tuesday why she is trying to raise public awareness of Griner’s detention anyway.