LGBTQ basketball star Brittney Griner detained in Russia


Brittney Griner (Photo by Lorie Shaull)

There are fears that arrested American Olympic basketball gold medalist Brittney Griner will become a victim of deteriorating relations between the US and Russia.

Griner, 31, was detained at Moscow’s Sheremetyevo International Airport in February after officials allegedly found cannabis oil vape cartridges in her luggage, a substance that is illegal in Russia.

The Russian Federal Customs Service said in a statement that it had opened a criminal case of “smuggling of narcotic drugs in a significant amount” against her and that she could be imprisoned for a term of five to 10 years.

Griner, who came out as a lesbian in 2013, plays both for Phoenix Mercury in the US Women’s National Basketball Association (WNBA) as well as for the UMMC Ekaterinburg team in the Russian Premier League. Her US national team won Olympic Gold in 2016 (Rio de Janeiro) and 2020 (Tokyo).

In light of Russia’s persecution of LGBTQ people, it’s not known if her sexual orientation may become a factor in her detention. Griner’s wife, Cherelle Griner, took to Instagram to express her heartbreak at her spouse’s precarious situation.

“My heart, our hearts, are all skipping beats everyday that goes by. I miss your voice. I miss your presence,” she wrote. “You’re our person! There are no words to express this pain. I’m hurting, we’re hurting. We await the day to love on you as a family.”

It’s understood that the White House is aware of Griner’s detention and is making efforts to assist her. However, there is concern that her status may be worsened by the rise in tension between the US and Russia due to the latter’s invasion of Ukraine.

Democratic Representative John Garamendi, who is a member of the US House Armed Services Committee, told CNN that “it’s going to be very difficult” to secure Griner’s release. He noted that “Our diplomatic relationships with Russia are nonexistent at the moment”.

More than 40,000 people have signed a petition calling for Griner’s freedom, noting that female basketball players are often forced to play overseas to supplement their income as they are paid far less than their male counterparts.

“These realities are not the fault of the players… and they do not deserve to be entangled in geopolitical turmoil for doing so,” said the creators of the petition.

Few details have been released about Griner and her whereabouts by the Russian authorities. On Saturday, the state-owned Russia 24 new channel showed a photo of the athlete holding up a piece of paper with her name on it said to have been taken at a police station.

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