Brittney Griner pleas for freedom, but is America listening?

From the hell of a Russian penal colony, an American basketball superstar pleads for her freedom.

“Sitting here in a Russian prison, alone with my thoughts and without the protection of my wife, family, friends, Olympic jersey or any accomplishments, I fear that I may be here forever,” writes Brittney Griner.

From the silence of the Cyrpto.com arena, Griner’s Phoenix Mercury teammates wonder if anyone is listening.

“There’s not enough outcry, no, period, there’s not enough outcry,” says forward Brianna Turner.

From where she sits in her 137 in a converted concrete orphanageth Held hostage, an American basketball superstar asks for help.

“On the Fourth of July, our family typically honors the service of those who fought for our freedom, including my father, who is a Vietnam War veteran,” Griner writes. “It hurts to think how I usually celebrate this day because freedom means something very different to me this year.”

Back in downtown Los Angeles, in the midst of what would become the biggest story in esports, only one reporter shows up for Mercury player interviews before the game.

“If it was LeBron James or Tom Brady, it would be news that would be in the headlines every day,” said Warden Sophie Cunningham. “With BG, it has to be a consistent message until it’s home.”

In Griner’s first public words since she was arrested on February 17 at a Moscow airport on drug charges and subsequently ruled “wrongly detained,” she directly implored President Joe Biden Monday to save her.

“I realize you are involved in so much, but please don’t forget about me and the other American inmates,” Griner wrote, in excerpts of a handwritten letter released to the media. “Please do everything you can to bring us home. I voted for the first time in 2020 and I voted for you. I believe in you. I still have so much good to do with my freedom that you can help restore it. I miss my wife! I miss my family! I miss my teammates! It kills me to know they are suffering so much right now. I am grateful for anything you can do at this moment to bring me home.”

WNBA star and two-time Olympic champion Brittney Griner is escorted into a courtroom in Moscow.

WNBA star and two-time Olympic gold medalist Brittney Griner is escorted to a courtroom hearing in Khimki, just outside Moscow on Friday.

(Alexander Zemlianichenko/Associated Press)

The letter is shocking. The desperation is heartbreaking. The silence is suffocating.

The excitement surrounding the incarceration of one of the most powerful forces in women’s basketball history — the seven-time WNBA All-Star, two-time Olympic gold medalist, WNBA champion and NCAA champion — has been as muted as her sport.

People are curious but not outraged. There were mixed efforts but no real momentum. There have been attempts to attract attention, but all have fizzled out. There was far more uproar five years ago when the three freshman UCLA basketball players were briefly arrested in China for shoplifting.

“We don’t get that much coverage in women’s sport, we get 4% of the media, so this gets 4% of the attention it should be getting,” said Mercury coach Vanessa Nygaard. “There’s still more we can do”

During practice before Game 2 of the NBA Finals, the Boston Celtics wore “We are BG” jerseys. Steph Curry spoke, James tweeted, and many basketball coaches and players weighed in.

There is a website, Wearebg.org, that has a petition that has nearly 300,000 signers. A letter from influential groups representing women, people of color and the LGBTQ community urged President Biden and Vice President Kamala Harris to push for their release.

Still, nothing picked up speed and nothing worked.

The US government even screwed up a planned phone call with Griner’s wife, Cherelle, a few weeks ago to mark the couple’s fourth anniversary. The call was supposed to be through the US Embassy in Moscow, but since it was a Saturday, no one showed up at work to make the connection. According to Griner’s reps, 11 calls from Griner didn’t go through and the two women never spoke to each other.

“I have no confidence in my government right now,” Cherelle told the Associated Press at the time. “If I can’t trust you to take an after-hours Saturday call, how can I trust you to actually negotiate on my wife’s behalf to get home?”

Griner was traveling to play for her Russian powerhouse team for a salary roughly five times what she was being paid in the WNBA when she was arrested at a Moscow airport for what authorities say she was vape- cartridges with 0.7 grams of cannabis oil. Experts agree that if she had committed such a violation, she would normally have been sentenced to a month in prison, a fine and deportation.

But a week after her incarceration, Russia invaded Ukraine, and Griner’s perceived fame made her a political pawn and a candidate for a prisoner swap.

Russians thought Griner had the power to become famous and actually said so.

“The famous athlete was arrested with illegal drugs containing narcotics,” said Kremlin spokesman Dmitry S. Peskov. “Only the court can make a judgment.”

But it turns out the 6ft 9 icon doesn’t seem famous enough.

Brittney Griner is not only held captive by the Russians, but also by her looks and her sexuality.

She is black. She’s covered in tattoos. She has dreadlocks. she is gay She doesn’t fit America’s image of the ideal female athlete, so America pretty much shrugs.

Brittney Griner is escorted into a courtroom for a hearing.

Brittney Griner is escorted to a courtroom in Khimki, just outside Moscow, for a hearing on June 27.

(Alexander Zemlianichenko/Associated Press)

If that had been Brady, we’d be going to war right now.

“If it were LeBron [James,] He would be home, right?’ said Nygard. “It’s a statement of the worth of women, it’s a statement of the worth of a black person, it’s a statement of the worth of a gay person — all those things. We know and that hurts a little bit more.”

Griner has many critics, and they have been very vocal, focusing on two main points.

If she’s dumb enough to bring drugs into a foreign country, she deserves what she gets!

Back in 2020 she refused to come out of the dressing room for the national anthem, how dare she ask for the protection of this country now!

When she answered the first criticism, yes if the drug allegations are true, she was incredibly stupid and reckless, but right now the drug allegations are just Russian allegations. And the US State Department has since classified her as “wrongly detained,” so it’s about something much bigger than a vape bust.

To answer the second criticism, just because an American protests against America doesn’t mean he should be barred from his protection, does it? Isn’t that the beauty of freedom of expression?

Caught in an international nightmare amidst a split national perception, Griner continues to wait while her teammates’ fears continue to mount.

“Having played in Russia for 10 years and been to different places in Russia, I can only imagine what a Russian prison is like,” said her close friend Diana Taurasi. “We have to keep pushing. The heat must rise.”

The temperature rose briefly last week when Griner, 31, showed up for the first day of her “trial” in a Jimi Hendrix T-shirt with her arms tied together and handcuffed to a guard. The photos went viral. She looked like a ghost. The trial could take up to two months, the conviction is all but certain and her sentence could be up to 10 years.

“It breaks my heart, I literally get goose bumps, you see her and you see the deflation in her looks,” Cunningham said. “You just want to hug her and give her a big bear hug and let her know it’s going to be okay.”

Brittney Griner arrives for a hearing at the Khimki Court outside Moscow on June 27.

Brittney Griner arrives for a hearing at the Khimki Court outside Moscow on June 27.

(Kirill Kudryavtsev/AFP via Getty Images)

After the photo release, a few moments of national interest, then more national silence.

The Sparks took the baton Monday by collecting shoes at the arena’s front door in honor of Griner’s annual BG’s Heart and Sole Shoe Drive, a charity that began when Griner regularly stopped and gave shoes from the trunk of her car to homeless people . The Sparks later donated a pair of the shoes to a young girl during the game.

It was a great effort and we hope it will resonate well beyond the few thousand in attendance and the small group watching on national television. Right now, that feels like a pretty big hope.

“If anyone out there is listening…” Nygaard said.

If so, that means 137 days in hell for Brittney Griner… and counting.

https://www.latimes.com/sports/sparks/story/2022-07-05/sparks-mercury-plaschke Brittney Griner pleas for freedom, but is America listening?

Emma Bowman

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