Brittney Griner released from Russian prison gives relief to basketball community
This was how it was always going to end: with WNBA star Brittney griner being released in a prisoner swap . It seemed like the outcome was certain, but it was so difficult to trust. Griner was going be held captive in a Russian penal colony, until she was freed. The relief for Griner’s family and friends today is overwhelming.
Griner, who is 32, had been sentenced to nine years in prison. The full sentence would have meant she missed the rest of her children’s childhoods and would have kept her away for almost a decade from her wife Cherelle. It would also have ended her career. It is not possible for someone to come back from nine years in a Russian prison colony and just walk into her daily life. Griner was further from her former self every day she spent there.
This is a rare political story in which we can all agree. I don’t care about your political affiliation or how you feel about any issue. The possession of vape cartridges containing cannabis oil should not cause a person’s life to be disrupted.
Everybody should be happy for Brittney Griner today … even if you think the U.S. got the bad end of a trade.
Griner was traded for Viktor Bout (a Russian arms dealer). President Joe Biden’s administration tried a two-for-one–Bout for Griner and corporate security director Paul Whelan, whom the Russians accuse of spying. The Russians declined. There are many people who can intelligently debate whether Griner-for–Bout was a wise decision by Biden. It will shock you to know that I am not the best person for that discussion. Griner’s return home is a happy event. It should be possible to seperate it from any discussion about the swap.
” This is a day that we have worked towards for a long period of time,” Biden stated. “We never gave up on her release. It took painstaking and intense negotiations, and I want to thank all the hardworking public servants across my administration who worked tirelessly to secure her release.”
Throughout the world of basketball today, word is spreading about BG. For most of 2022, Griner was both out of sight and everywhere. Griner was often talked about by her fellow WNBA players. Unprompted, NBA players brought up her name. The recent game between No. 1 South Carolina and No. 2 Stanford, coaches Dawn Staley (South Carolina) and Tara VanDerveer (Stanford) both wore shirts supporting Griner.
We live in a world of performative gestures but the sentiment was sincere. Basketball is more closely knit than any other major sport. Women and men can share their high school, college, and professional arenas. Players can connect through AAU programs and summer camps. From their teens, the best players compete on international teams. Griner is more than a name and a political pawn to those who spend their lives playing basketball. Griner is a beloved member in their community and is now returning home.
This would be a happy end if it were a real ending. It’s not, really. We’ll find out how Griner was affected by Russia. How traumatic it was and how difficult it will be to get over it. Griner doesn’t likely have the answers.
There are many more questions. Some are geopolitical (What does that mean for U.S.-Russia relations?) Others are more personal. Griner will be a prominent figure in the minds of pro basketball players when they consider playing in countries with authoritarian or unstable governments. Other athletes should also think about Griner.
The Griner story will continue to reverberate in ways that we cannot predict at this time. Her life will be different. It’s a great relief to know that she can live it.
The author of 5 books, 3 of which are New York Times bestsellers. I’ve been published in more than 100 newspapers and magazines and am a frequent commentator on NPR.