Brittney Griner, a WNBA superstar who plays for the Phoenix Mercury, was detained by Russian authorities at a Russian airport on February 17, although the arrest was not made official by the country until midway through March. Griner was traveling to Russia to play for a professional basketball team overseas during the WNBA off-season, and was arrested for possession of vape cartridges with hashish oil.
Many WNBA fans are wondering why this situation was never the top sports story in the country, and why everyone seems to have already forgotten about it while Griner remains detained in Russia.
“I feel like that’s pretty unfair to her, since if it was any male basketball player then it would’ve been on the news immediately,” varsity basketball player Giselle Stem said. “I feel like there’s already a stigma around girls’ basketball, and I feel like people underestimate us.”
Stem also compared the Brittney Griner situation to the situation of Sha’Carri Richardson, an Olympic track and field runner who was not allowed to participate in the Summer Olympics because of a failed drug test.
“If we look at [Sha’Carri Richardson], she got so much media coverage,” Stem said. “There was a lot about it, and everybody was speaking up and speaking out for her. That one, everybody knew about, and I feel like this could’ve been the same way, but at the same time I get it because it’s overseas. I haven’t heard nearly as much about this situation as the other situation, so I feel like if they could [speak out] for her why not do it in this situation as well.”
Although it’s impossible to not look at the gap in respect between male basketball players to female basketball players as a huge reason for the lack of coverage of Griner’s story, many have pointed to the political tension between the United States and Russia as a reason that no one is talking about this. With the United States aiding Ukraine during the war, many fear that Griner could become a political pawn amid these conflicts.
“I think she definitely could be used as a pawn because she is an American, and there are a lot of tensions right now between Russia and America, mostly over Ukraine, and I’m not sure what [Putin’s] intentions are with this,” Model UN member Isabel Holland said. “He might try to bring her into the middle of this, probably not that much, but it could happen.”
Currently, Griner is being held in Russian confinement until at least May 19, and she could be facing up to 10 years in confinement according to Russian policy. Many fans are still advocating for her release, but the majority of media is still dead quiet about Griner while she continues to be stuck in Russia.
“It’s likely [that she could face the whole 10-year sentence],” Holland said. “If the Americans can’t get her out, then she’ll have to probably end up staying there, just because there is the Ukraine situation happening and America is not really wanting to get super engaged in that.”