Brittney Griner Returned Home


Brittney Griner arriving to a Moscow court for a hearing – August 2022

Tavia Seitz, Siri Rosenberg, and Kate Sobol

Brittney Griner is a female basketball player who plays on the Phoenix Mercury. While attempting to enter Russia in February 2022 to rejoin her team UMMC Yekaterinburg, she was detained. For having less than a gram of cannabis oil in her luggage. After being held by Russian authorities for around seven months, she had a trial in August and was found guilty for drug smuggling and possession. While in trial, Griner pleaded guilty but said “there was no [criminal] intent” and she “didn’t want to break the law.” The jury was not convinced, and she was sentenced to nine years in a Russian prison. She spent 294 days in detainment and jail. Griner was placed in a Russian Penal Colony in a small town seven hours away from Moscow, called Yavas. This particular jail was famously known for the verbal and physical abuse of its inmates. Throughout America, citizens were appalled. When the news was released in March that Griner was detained, protests took to the streets across the country. At one march in Harlem, New York, people chanted: “Say her name: Brittney Griner!” 

After intense negotiations between the US and Russia, Brittney Griner was released in a prisoner swap on December 8, 2022. Viktor Bout, a Russian arms dealer, took her place. Bout is known as “The Merchant of Death” and had been formerly sentenced to twenty-five years in prison in April 2012 after being found guilty of conspiracy to kill US citizens. He additionally has been accused of  delivering anti-aircraft missiles and aiding the Taliban and Al Qaeda, both terrorist organizations. Media reports show that he may have been a gun-runner for Al-Qaeda and the Taliban as well. Biden shared that the efforts behind the negotiation process were “painstaking.”  Brittney Griner and Viktor Bout swapped at the San Antonio airport in Texas where Griner and Bout can be seen passing one another.

 Besides Griner, the US intended to bring home Paul Whelan, a former marine detained by Russia for alleged spying. In return for Whelan, Russia requested Vadim Krasikov, who murdered a refugee from Chechnya (a Russian colony) by order of the Russian government. However, the US did not have custody of Krasikov; as a result, Welhan was not allowed to leave prison with Brittney Griner. Reports state that Paul Welhan’s family is extremely upset because in the time Griner received, more attempts to bring her home in seven months than Paul Whelann has in five years.

After returning home, Brittney Griner was not as warmly welcomed as expected. At a welcome home party, organized by friends and family in her town, only 20 people of the dozens invited attended. On her first game back with the Phoenix Mercury team, the stadium was filled only partially with cheers and welcome home messages from fans. Many others were uninterested, or even booing Griner’s enlarged picture on screen. This could be traced to many origins: political views, racism, or homophobia. . As a queer black woman who knelt during the national anthem, Griner’s identity and political standing rendered her unpopular with some from the beginning.

However, Brittney Griner’s release from Russian prison has been mostly positive and uplifting news. Her family, and many across America, were relieved and overjoyed when she landed in San Antonio. President Biden and other members of the government had to make an extremely tough decision to release Viktor Bout. Although people around the world were upset that Russia forced the US to swap a basketball player with less than a gram of marijuana for a terrorist known as the “Merchant of Death”.