Getting Brittney Griner Out of Russia Won't Be Easy

WNBA star is in custody, was one of dozens of players who also compete overseas
By John Johnson,  Newser Staff
Posted Mar 8, 2022 11:05 AM CST
What We Know About Arrest of WNBA Star in Russia
Phoenix Mercury center Brittney Griner in an October game.   (AP Photo/Rick Scuteri)

News emerged over the weekend that Russia had arrested WNBA star Brittney Griner and was holding her on drug charges. Now, big questions linger over her fate, all of which are complicated by Russia's invasion of Ukraine. Coverage:

  • The arrest: Griner, an All-Star player with Phoenix in the WNBA, appears to have been arrested on Feb. 17 when she flew into Moscow, reports the Wall Street Journal. Russian authorities say she had vape cartridges with hashish oil, an offense that could carry a 10-year penalty. Russia hadn't yet invaded Ukraine when Griner was detained. An NPR report quotes Jonathan Franks, who works with wrongfully detained Americans and wonders whether the charges are bogus.
  • Mugshot: Russian authorities just released her booking photo, and TMZ has it.

  • Why Russia? Griner plays in Russia during the WNBA offseason, as do many WNBA players, reports NBC News. In Griner's case, she has played for the team UMMC Ekaterinburg the last seven years, during her downtime from Phoenix. The New York Times notes that roughly half of the 144 players in the WNBA also play somewhere overseas.
  • The money: That US players travel abroad to make extra money might not be a surprise. But the details might be. In the WNBA, the maximum base salary is $228,094, and lots of players make closer to the minimum of $60,471. In Russia and elsewhere, they can pull in $1 million salaries, per the Journal. That's still a pittance compared to NBA paydays, but it helps explain the widespread travel.

  • Complications: All WNBA players have left Russia in the wake of the invasion—all except Griner. Getting her out will be tricky, because "our diplomatic relationships with Russia are nonexistent at the moment," said Democratic Rep. John Garamendi, who sits on the House Armed Services Committee, per CNN. "Perhaps during the various negotiations that may take place, she might be able to be one of the solutions. I don't know."
  • Other factors: Little is known about Griner's case, including where she's being held. In addition to the fear she may be used as a geopolitical pawn, supporters point out that she is a gay woman in a nation where LGBTQ rights are generally lagging. More than 34,000 people have signed an online petition calling for her "safe and swift return" to the US.
(More Brittney Griner stories.)

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