We Need to Talk About Brittany Griner

WNBA star Brittney Griner has been detained in Russia since February. It’s time to dial up the pressure on the people who can bring her home safely. Here’s how.

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10 mins read

By Liz Dwyer 

Originally posted in Word in Black

Back in 2013, after Brittney Griner became the first-round draft pick for the WNBA’s Phoenix Mercury, ESPN reporter Holly Rowe asked her, “How are you looking forward to playing with a little bit more freedom?”

“Definitely looking forward to the freedom,” Griner replied. 

Fast forward to 2022, and Griner’s spent most of this year locked away in Russia over alleged drug possession.

In the blink of an eye, Griner’s gone from basketball stardom to begging for help from the leader of the free world.  

“As I sit here in a Russian prison, alone with my thoughts and without the protection of my wife, family, friends, Olympic jersey, or any accomplishments, I’m terrified I might be here forever.” 

That’s what 31-year-old Griner wrote to President Biden on the Fourth of July, the day the nation she repped at the Olympics twirled sparklers, barbecued, and toasted to freedom.

Why aren’t more of us calling our political representatives every day demanding action to secure Griner’s freedom? 

Sure, we Black folks often give a side-eye to the holiday (because racism) while rereading Fredrick Douglass’ “What to the Slave Is the Fourth of July?” speech.

But our blood is also soaked into the soil of this nation. We’ve fought in every war to uphold democracy and freedom — so we care enough about this country to be a critical friend. Talking about America’s inequities, as Brittney Griner has done in the past, doesn’t mean we don’t deserve life, liberty, and the pursuit of happiness — or that we deserve to spend months in a Russian jail.

You’d best believe if you were locked up in Russia (or anywhere else, for that matter), you’d hope and pray that your folk would move heaven and earth to get you free and back to these shores. And FYI, your “folk” are Black folk and anyone else who not only understands that white supremacy in 2022 has blood running through this nation’s streets but is also doing something about it.

So why aren’t more of us calling our political representatives every day demanding action to secure Griner’s freedom? 

Griner is our sister, so why aren’t we harnessing the power of Black Twitter and trending her name on social media nonstop?

Why doesn’t her situation regularly come up in our conversations with our friends and family?

And yes, I’m looking in the mirror and asking myself these questions, too.

Adobe Stock

Keep it real, America does not care about Black women. 

Is it that she’s gay, out, and has been since she entered public life, and some folks haven’t worked out how to support folks in the LGBTQ+ community while also practicing their faith? 

Is it that she was arrested for drug possession and that she pled guilty to having 0.7 grams of cannabis oil in two used vape cartridges — and even though we know police lie and we have no reason to trust Russia, there’s a “she should have known better” dismissal of her situation?

Is it that the war in Ukraine has shown the limits of U.S. power and we figure ain’t nobody going up against Vladimir Putin like that, so #KanyeShrug, there’s nothing we can do about it — so let’s keep on trying to stay employed and free of whatever ‘Rona variant is running in these streets?

The politics are no doubt complicated given the Russian invasion of Ukraine, the United State’s financial and equipment support of Ukraine, and our ongoing drama with Russian President Vladimir Putin for whatever help Russia gave Donald Trump in the 2016 presidential election. We know Putin isn’t exactly known for his reasonableness — to the point that New York City’s actually running nuke preparedness ads

It’s true that diplomatic efforts don’t get broadcast on social media. But what this nation also does is put pressure on us to not say Brittney Griner’s name because, keep it real, America does not care about Black women

As journalist Soraya McDonald recently tweeted, “Griner is a valuable political prisoner for Putin precisely because he can treat her horribly and use it to point out American lack of moral authority because this country cages innocent Black women, too.”

And, when you stand up for Black women, you’re attacked.

Even LeBron James — THE LeBron James — caught heat recently for comments he made on his show “The Shop” about Griner.  

“Now how could she feel like America has her back?” he said. “I would be feeling like, ‘Do I even want to go back to America?’”

Folks jumped all over Bron-Bron, to the point that he had to tweet a clarification.

“My comments on ‘The Shop’ regarding Brittney Griner wasn’t knocking our beautiful country,” he wrote. ”I was simply saying how she’s probably feeling emotionally along with so many other emotions, thoughts, etc inside that cage she’s been in for over 100+ days! Long story short #BringHerHome.”

LeBron’s name has come up in regard to Griner before when folks pointed out that if he’d been detained and imprisoned in Russia, there’d be nonstop outrage, and he’d be a News at 11 headline on the regular. 

But as many pointed out, the NBA superstar would never even have to play in Russia because he doesn’t have to travel overseas to make money in the off-season like Griner and other WNBA players do. 

The highest WNBA salary is roughly $228,000 a year. But the highest paid NBA player earns more than $45 million — 44 times what their equally accomplished female peers earn. Talk about a gender pay gap, whew.

So what can we do? As usual, listen to Black women. 

On July 5, the Win With Black Women collective, a group “of intergenerational, intersectional Black women leaders throughout the nation making a difference,” sent a letter to President Biden and Vice President Kamala Harris demanding they take action and make a deal for Griner’s release. 

The letter — signed by 1,200 Black women, including Dr. Bernice King, CEO of the King Center and the daughter of Martin Luther King Jr., and Donna Brazile, former acting chair of the Democratic National Committee — reminds Biden and Harris that the voting power of Black women got them to the White House.

“She voted for you and Vice President Kamala Harris. More than prioritizing her immediate return in wording — you must do so indeed and make a deal to bring Brittney home,” the letter states.

Take action, say her name, and demand justice.

What can the rest of us regular folk do? Well, the squeaky wheel gets the grease. 

Contact your member of Congress and demand they take action and telephone or email your senator. 

Email President Biden: directly at PRESIDENT@WHITEHOUSE.GOV or COMMENTS@WHITEHOUSE.GOV 

You can also call Biden and tell him how you feel about Brittney Griner. Dial 202-456-1111 for comments or reach the switchboard at 202-456-1414.

However you choose, take action, say her name, and demand justice. Brittney Griner deserves to taste freedom again.

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