A Russian regional court rejected WNBA champion Brittney Griner’s appeal against her nine-and-a-half-year prison sentence on drug charges.
Maria Blagovolina and Alexander Boykov, the attorneys for the 2013 WNBA first draft pick, solicited for a suspended sentence. Their request was met with the prosecution’s retort deeming the appeal as “groundless,” according to the Wall Street Journal.
The U.S. government considered the sentence otherwise. Jake Sullivan, U.S. National Security Advisor, reinforced Griner’s status as “wrongfully detained” and coined the appeal proceedings a “sham.”
Regardless of her status, Griner has maintained her stance. During her testimony, she reiterated her mistake in breaking Russian law and the burden she carries.
When given the opportunity to speak on her own behalf, Griner said, “I did not intend to do this. This has been a very traumatic experience.” She also used her time to speak about the injustice surrounding her case. “People with more severe crimes have gotten less time than what I was given,” she said.
The Associated Press revealed that her lawyers argued similar cases receive, on average, a five-year sentence.
“The verdict contains numerous defects,” her attorneys said in a statement. “We still think the punishment is excessive and contradicts the existing court practices.”
The court granted a minor shift in the sentence by not disqualifying her eight months in pretrial detention. Consequently, the two-time Olympic gold medalist will serve closer to eight years in prison after being sentenced in August, following a guilty plea in July. A day in pretrial detention accounts for one and a half days in prison. Russia’s show of mercy is overshadowed by the fact that the maximum sentence possible was ten years.
Eight months after being arrested at Sheremetyevo Airport in Moscow due to possessing 0.702 grams of cannabis prescribed for chronic pain, the former NCAA champion is on her way to the penal colonies in Russia. The Washington Post reported that a plethora of penal practices are inherited from Gulags, which were a system of Soviet labor camps and prisons.
Griner was in Russia to join Ural Mining and Metallurgical Ekaterinburg. Since 2014, she has traveled to Russia during the WNBA off-season to play for Ekaterinburg. Griner has led the team to eight trophies and earned quadruple her WNBA salary.
Griner’s freedom could hinge on a successful prisoner swap or future appeal. A day after Griner’s appeal was upheld, the Kremlin announced that any prisoner swap negotiations must be confidential. Though the Russian government remains numb to professional athletes’ unrelenting pursuit to get the Phoenix Mercury star home, basketball voices, including coaches and fans, continue to advocate for Griner.
Jeanne-Marie Wilson, second-year assistant coach for Howard University’s women’s basketball team, said Griner’s situation is “very unfortunate.” She believes, “The U.S. is not taking the time to figure this out, and that comes with the territory of being a woman.” Wilson, an HBCU grad and six-year coaching veteran urged WNBA players today to “consider where you are going to play once the WNBA season is over because some places overseas don’t care about your well-being.”
The voice of solidarity with Griner has also trickled down to Howard’s student body. Gjianni White, junior nutritional sciences major, had remarks similar to Coach Wilson’s.
“It is sad to see Brittney Griner get her appeal denied because we have seen no strong effort by the powers of our nation to make serious strides toward helping Brittney,” White said. “We also cannot act as if Brittney’s situation should be handled akin to others.”
To support her argument, White said, “Brittney Griner is a 6-foot-9 Black woman and a great in a profession where women are constantly undermined and disrespected. There is reasonable doubt that the law was not enforced upon her as it would be upon anyone else. Brittney Griner is in a unique situation because her existence is unique.”
Copy edited by Chanice McClover-Lee