International basketball star and double Olympic gold medalist Brittney Griner was arrested on Feb. 17 for possession of cannabis oil at the Moscow Airport. She was on her way to join UMMC Ekaterinburg, the Russian team she had been playing for since 2014. In a convoluted arrangement with the team, she was able to earn several times her Phoenix Mercury annual salary of $220,000 per season.
On Feb. 24, the Russian Federation invaded its former Republic Ukraine (an independent country) following an extended period of friction between the United States and Russia over the possibility of Ukraine joining the North Atlantic Treaty Organization (NATO).
Since her arrest, Griner has remained in limbo while the U.S. government and its affiliates are preoccupied with strategic maneuverings against the Federation’s military intrusion into Ukraine. Her compatriots within the WNBA have remained steadfast in their support of Griner, while walking a tightrope to avoid provocative statements which might make her a cause célèbre and impede efforts to free her.
“What we were told, and again this is all sort of passed along through hearsay, but what we were told was to not make a big fuss about it so that they could not use her as a pawn, so to speak, in this situation in the war,” WNBA legend Lisa Leslie said.
State Department spokesperson Ned Price said as much in a July 5 press briefing.
“We do not want to do anything or say anything that would potentially jeopardize the chances of seeing an American released.”
This volatile situation is complicated by the ever-evolving relationship between the United States and Russia in all its iterations, as this latest chapter involves the possibility of a significant portion of the former Communist territory being annexed by the opposing forces, and tipping the scales on the global chessboard.
The Biden administration, in turn, was criticized for not pursuing the matter more aggressively, then admonished by the Russians for their efforts to facilitate closure.
Officially, Griner is charged with the “large-scale transportation of drugs,” into the country, an offense potentially bringing with it a prison sentence of up to 10 years (authorities reportedly found 0.702 grams of hash oil in Griner’s luggage.