CultureThursday 03.10.22

WNBA Star Brittney Griner Is an Unfortunate Pawn in Russia’s Game

Russia’s war on Ukraine has consumed headlines ever since it began in February. But the arrest of WNBA star Brittney Griner in Moscow has gotten far less attention. In fact, Griner had been in custody for three weeks before the news of her detention for alleged drug smuggling charges broke.

But it’s all related. Russia could be using Griner as a pawn in its conflict with the United States and the rest of the Western world. In recent years, U.S. officials have accused Russia of detaining and sentencing American citizens on trumped up charges. And just last week, the State Department told U.S. citizens to leave the country "immediately," warning of "the potential for harassment" by the Russian government. Griner has played in Russia during the WNBA’s offseason for years. She makes substantially more money for four months of work in the Russian Women's Basketball Premier League than she does at home (Griner is one of the WNBA’s “max players” earning the league’s maximum salary of $222,000 a year as a key player for the Phoenix Mercury).Over the weekend, the Russian Federal Customs Service released a video of Griner going through security at an airport just outside of Moscow after she arrived from New York. According to the independent Russian news agency Interfax, a drug-sniffing dog indicated there were narcotics in Griner’s luggage, and a search subsequently found vape cartridges containing oil derived from cannabis. Griner faces charges that carry a maximum penalty of five to ten years in prison.

LZ and Will talk about the relatively low pay imposed by the WNBA, which incentivized Griner’s second career in Russia in the first place, and imagine what it will take to get Brittney Griner home.

The Long Game