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Students React to WNBA Star Sentenced to Nine Years in Russian Prison

Brittney Griner. Photo Courtesy of The Ancestory.

WNBA superstar Brittney Griner was officially sentenced to nine years of jail time last Thursday, August 4, with a Russian court finding her guilty of drug smuggling with criminal intent. Griner was arrested at a Moscow Airport six months ago on Feb. 17 and charged with drug smuggling and cannabis possession. She then officially pled guilty to the drug charges, stating then that she “accidentally packed the drugs while in a hurry.”

The WNBA’s low salaries have forced a multitude of its athletes to seek additional playing opportunities overseas. Griner’s teammate and former league MVP Diana Taurasi is an example, having sat out the 2015 WNBA season to take on a lucrative contract in Russia.

According to Griner’s wife, Cherelle Griner, if it was up to Brittney, she wouldn’t have been overseas to begin with. “BG would wholeheartedly love to not go overseas,” Cherelle Griner told ABC News on May 25. “She has only had one Thanksgiving in the States in nine years since she’s been a pro, and she misses all that stuff. Just because, you know, she can’t make enough money in the WNBA, like, to sustain her life.”

When asked to comment on the situation, Howard University junior and avid WNBA supporter Olivia Toussaint had similar sentiments regarding Griner’s pay and the state of women’s basketball overall. “I am deeply saddened and disappointed in our country, who doesn’t respect the caliber of women’s sports enough to prevent women from traveling to other countries in order to make a living wage in the first place,” Toussaint said. “Had she been treated as the fierce and extremely talented person she is, she would not have been in this situation.”

Conversations surrounding the incident have many wondering if the WNBA’s lack of prominence in the eyes of media outlets has contributed to Griner’s continued detainment and if things would be different if she played in a more popular sports spectacle. 

Howard alumna Kaija Powell thinks that if Griner were playing in a more prominent, visible league, this wouldn’t be the case, and isn’t surprised by the lack of urgency on all parts. “It’s sad [that] it doesn’t affect me more. Like I said before, I’m not shocked or surprised at all by how Brittney Griner is being treated by both the U.S. and Russia,” Powell said. “Had it been Lebron James who was detained, not only do I think it would have never reached this point, but if it had, I really feel like the U.S. would be doing more.”

In the eyes of Howard University senior Harlem Lewis-Wayans, this situation is an attack on not only Griner herself, but black women everywhere. “The situation makes me more cautious to travel to European countries because of how I may be treated as a black woman due to the Russian government perpetuating harmful stereotypes against Griner,” said Lewis-Wayans. “Within the past few months, women have taken a major step back with the loss of Roe V. Wade, and that only doubles when talking about African American women.”

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This is a deflating situation. However, there is still hope for Griner. The Biden administration and others in Washington have continued to monitor the situation closely, with Vice President Kamala Harris tweeting Thursday, August 4 that she and President Biden are “working every day to reunite Brittney, as well as Paul Whelan, with loved ones who miss each of them dearly.” 

Copy edited by Nhandi Long-Shipman

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