WNBA player Brittney Griner has been detained in Russia for three weeks

Brittney Griner is one of the most famous basketball players in the world. She’s a two-time Olympic gold medalist and she plays for Phoenix Mercury during the regular WNBA season, and as it turns out, during the WNBA off-season, she goes to Russia to play for UMMC Ekaterinburg. She’s been spending the past several years playing for that Russian league for more money than she makes for the Phoenix Mercury. That’s why she was in Russia when the Russian military invaded Ukraine. The American embassy told Americans to get the hell out of Russia immediately when the invasion began (the State Department had issued alerts to Americans before then) and it looks like all of the American WNBA players quickly got out. But not Brittney. As she was trying to fly out of Russia, she was stopped, searched and she’s currently being detained in Russia.

Russia said on Saturday that it had detained an American basketball player — later identified as Phoenix Mercury center Brittney Griner — on drug charges, entangling a U.S. citizen’s fate in the dangerous confrontation between Russia and the West over Ukraine. The Russian Federal Customs Service said its officials had detained the player after finding vape cartridges that contained hashish oil in her luggage at the Sheremetyevo airport near Moscow, and it released a video of a traveler going through airport security who appeared to be Griner.

The Customs Service did not release the player’s name, but the Russian news agency Tass, citing a law enforcement source, identified the player as Griner, a seven-time W.N.B.A. All-Star center for the Mercury. In a statement, Griner’s agent, Lindsay Kagawa Colas, did not dispute reports of her client’s detention. “We are aware of the situation with Brittney Griner in Russia and are in close contact with her, her legal representation in Russia, her family, her teams and the W.N.B.A. and N.B.A.,” she said.

Also on Saturday, the State Department, which for weeks had warned Americans against traveling to Russia, released an updated advisory urging U.S. citizens to leave the country immediately, citing the invasion in Ukraine, the “potential for harassment against U.S. citizens by Russian government security officials” and the limited ability of the U.S. Embassy in Moscow to assist American citizens in the country.

“I obviously don’t know the circumstances of her detention, but Griner’s arrest should serve as a wake-up call to all Americans in Russia,” said Michael A. McFaul, a former U.S. ambassador to Moscow. “Get out. Shut down your businesses now.”

[From The New York Times]

The NYT says that they can’t confirm how long Griner has been detained in Russia, but other outlets are saying that she was trying to fly out three weeks ago, which means that for three weeks, the WNBA, State Department and American embassy have been trying to negotiate her release quietly, with zero media attention, and then on Saturday, Russia released the news of her arrest and detention. None of this bodes well and everyone should be very worried about what they’re doing to her. Not just because she’s an American woman and not just because she’s a Black woman, but because she’s a queer Black American woman. Her family must be going through an absolute ordeal right now.

Photos courtesy of Avalon Red, Instagram.

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38 Responses to “WNBA player Brittney Griner has been detained in Russia for three weeks”

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  1. Southern Fried says:

    I’m scared for her. Weighing heavily on my mind.

  2. Genevieve says:

    This is so scary. Russia is absolutely using her as a hostage.

  3. girl_ninja says:

    She has been detained for THREE weeks and we JUST found out about this on Saturday? This is outrageous and terrifying especially considering what Russia is going right now. The fact that WNBA players are forced to supplement their income when NBA players get millions upon millions is disgraceful.

    • superashes says:

      We’re only finding out about it now because the negotiations to get her out fell apart. This situation is horrible, and not one where we would ever go tit for tat. They are going to use her to whip up their Anti-American sentiment back home now that people are more fully throated in Russia in their objection to the war and we have little power to get her back.

    • Oria says:

      I hope they start calling NBA for MNBA, Men’s National Basketball Association just like they segregate women with WNBA. So tired of every sport where women compete being called women’s bla bla bla.
      Like men are the norm and female sport athletes is an oddity.

  4. ncboudicca says:

    I’m hopeful that the State Dept has at least been able to speak with her – I haven’t seen that mentioned anywhere. It’s very scary. At least they’re not trying to say she’s a spy or anything, because then I would be even more concerned about her immediate safety.

  5. C-Shell says:

    So much horror coming out of this conflict. I hate to think of the meaning behind Russia making her detention public knowledge. They WANT hostages, examples, to leverage, and Brittney’s profile is perfect for that purpose. I’m screaming internally about the abuses they can inflict because of her 1) gayness, 2) Blackness, 3) Americanness, and 4) fame. Let’s fervently hope they decide to use a release of Brittney to show they’re not the monsters we see that they are.

    • DuchessL says:

      Britney’s profile is perfect for them and unfortunately the worst for her. I wish she finds a way to get out of there fast.

    • BeanieBean says:

      I think that’s why they chose her to detain, just as I think they planted those drugs on her, if there were any drugs in the first place. If she has homes in two places, there’s no need to pack the hash to take with her (again, if there were any hash in the first place). This is scary & I hope it turns out for the best.
      Oops, I see that Mindy just below had the same thoughts as me. This is a set up.

  6. Mindy_DeLaCalle says:

    When this first came out – my first instinct was to wonder why she would even attempt to fly out with ANY type of illegal substance during this horrible time between our countries. I live in MA and have traveled via flights with my (medical) vape cart but I still get nervous about this. HOWEVER, I have since changed my mind and I truly believe they targeted her and are holding her as a type of pressure to use against the USA. What a horrible situation.

    • Jessica says:

      Seriously. If you are traveling you have to know the laws. I like how she doesn’t even mention the weed vape they found. She was detained because weed is a HUGE deal in Russia. She should have just ditched the vape and bought a new one when she got home. It’s a costly mistake.

      • Erin says:

        I’ve read in several different places that she was detained after landing in Moscow on a flight from New York, so she wasn’t trying to get out but was going back.

    • candy says:

      Knowing what we know about Russia, it’s highly likely she was framed. But flying there was a mistake.

    • Ivy says:

      You should definitely not be flying with your medical vape. Legal here does not mean legal elsewhere.

  7. Julia K says:

    While cannabis in a vape pen is legal in many places, unfortunately it is not legal in Russia. Unless she can prove it was planted in her luggage, she may be in for a tough time. Hope she can get a good attorney.

    • bettyrose says:

      But a low grade crime like cannibis in a vape pen for someone on a temporary visa would generally be handled with deportation, no? Detaining a foreign citizen for this crime is not the typical response.

  8. Jacquie says:

    Read a very interesting “ blind” in Blind Gossip yesterday. Titled “Patriot Irony”. Pretty sure it refers to this situation.

    • GrnieWnie says:

      Welp, this US military veteran thinks that the Blind Gossip “patriotism” bent is a load of garbage and fully supports anyone kneeling at sporting events in protest. Remember when we used to understand patriotism as a DUTY to think critically about our nation? Remember when patriotism meant service to ideals, not meaningless displays of national symbols waved by people ignorant of national history and hell-bent on making everyone else get in line?

      And while Blind Gossip tried to make her detention an individual case, it’s not. Anyone who has lived under a government that practices arbitrary detention understands how that goes: said government will find any excuse to detain you if they want. She was clearly detained for the political significance of her detention. Turning her detention into an individual failing is a distraction from the obvious, which brings the motives of the writers into question.

      Just my opinion.

  9. Willow says:

    Oh no. I am so sorry for her and worried. There are 2 white American men currently jailed in Russia, both former military, one on drug charges, the other for spying. Their families have been trying to get them out for years. I really hope our government can get them all released.

    Also, important info,
    If you go on, I think it’s the State Department?, anyway it’s an official US government website, it lists all the countries and the danger levels for visitors by category and why. Gender, race, sexual orientation, ethnicity, religion, etc. Don’t go overseas until you read that. We never know what normal, every day thing about us, can make us a target in another country.

    • CentralPerk says:

      Exactly this. The State Department had Russia at a Level 4 advisory in *January,* In no uncertain terms, that means – and the advisory stated this explicitly – DO NOT GO THERE. YOU WILL LIKELY BE A TARGET. WE CANNOT GUARANTEE OUR ABILITY TO PROVIDE ASSISTANCE IF YOU GET INTO TROUBLE.

      • C says:

        To be fair, the majority of countries internationally have been at Level 4 for many months, and while Russia is a volatile destination this situation got worse rather quickly.

  10. GrnieWnie says:

    she’s a victim of the global passport hierarchy, as I call it. Any expat is familiar with it. It’s when you’re treated differently by a government based on your passport. So for instance, a government might round up a bunch of expats for “working illegally”, release all the ones from G7 countries and detain all the ones from less powerful countries.

    It absolutely has a racialized aspect to it…a government might think it can get away with executing a Brit, for example, if that Brit is a dual national or not white (truuuueeeee story there).

  11. bettyrose says:

    I had a colleague who was in Russia at the time of the invasion and she took the first flight out. She’s a WOC but not a celebrity of any sort. Sometimes being an anonymous person is really a blessing. I hadn’t heard of Brittney Griner until just now, but she is now very much in my thoughts. This is terrifying.

    • GrnieWnie says:

      I maintain that knowing when to leave is a critical life skill. You’ve gotta read the situation.

  12. Anastasia says:

    I saw something about how she was arrested in Feb for drugs, and I’m now wondering if that was a piece of Russian propaganda

  13. Emma says:

    Oh my god. Terrifying. I can only hope *maybe* her higher profile will make violence against her less likely. what an absolute nightmare situation.

  14. Cara says:

    This is rough. I truly hope that she gets out soon, guilty or not. If she really did bring this in her luggage, it’s a pity. We commoners, and athletes especially, know that these substances are illegal. Time, money, resources have to be used to help these detained Americans. I certainly want them helped at all costs, but it’s incredibly irresponsible behaviour coming from the person who acted illegally.

    • Laura says:

      If she’s been playing there for years, flying out of there for years, and nothing has come up before now then I’d guess she knows the laws.

    • Flowerlake says:

      If you google it, you can find a lot of stories about police etc planting drugs on people there and even being convicted for it.

      I think she is probably innocent.

    • GrnieWnie says:

      Like I said above, in countries that practice arbitrary detention, laws are often ill defined (because they don’t rely on a system of law for governance. The Soviet model, in particular, relied on administrative orders – not law) or arbitrarily enforced. There are a lot of gray areas. Also, the government will use any excuse that it wants to in order to detain you…if it isn’t one thing, they’ll find another.

      Just pointing that out bc people who have never lived in countries like this will interpret the situation according to what they’re familiar with. I’ve been arbitrarily detained by a government before, so I know this game first hand.

  15. Luna17 says:

    I hope she gets out. Also the vape thing is odd. People travel with them a lot (even though it’s illegal in places). I don’t know if it was planted or not but certainly wouldn’t be surprised. Also I wonder why she didn’t leave earlier. This war was ramping up months ago, the government was issuing warnings a lot earlier than 3 weeks ago. The situation is awful but Russia wasn’t a place to stick around in in Jan or early Feb.

  16. jferber says:

    I sure hope she gets out of there safe and sound and NEVER returns. Godspeed.