I’m not a legal expert, or a hostage negotiator. I’ve seen The Negotiator, but it’s been a while, so these are just the thoughts of a casual observer. The advice being given in the Brittney Griner case is strange. Being told not to talk about an Olympian being wrongfully detained in Russia over weed vape cartridges, and that pleading guilty is the thing to do — which Griner did this morning — is the opposite of what I would’ve thought to do.
Again, I know nothing about the law or international relations. What I do know about this Griner situation is nothing has gone the way I thought it would go. I mean it makes sense that it’s played out the way my colleague Carron Phillips said it would, when he wrote Black gay women have it the hardest. There wasn’t a leap to arms at first, and now she’s facing as long as a decade in prison unless the U.S. makes a deal with Vladimir Putin.
Former U.S. ambassador to Russia Michael McFaul told MSNBC that Russia considers Victor Bout, a notorious weapons dealer who’s been rumored to be the prisoner the Kremlin wants in a swap, “one of them.” McFaul clarified that he doesn’t know that Bout is in the clique for certain, but he said the regime doesn’t want to leave one of its guys behind. (He also said the U.S. should take the deal.)
That begs the question, what does America presume Griner to be? Because she’s not being treated like one of us. President Joe Biden had to receive a handwritten letter from the two-time gold medalist before he reached out, or even talked to Cherelle Griner, Brittney’s wife. LeBron James gave his support after also heeding the calls to not mention it, and Phoenix Mercury head coach Vanessa Nygaard said Sunday that “If it was LeBron, he’d be home, right?”
(Those words are similar to what Phillips wrote, but he used Kevin Love as an example.)
Griner’s WNBA coach continued, “It’s a statement about the value of women. It’s a statement about the value of a Black person. It’s a statement about the value of a gay person. All of those things. We know it, and so that’s what hurts a little more.”
Both sentiments are true because people — Americans — wouldn’t have waited to get the go ahead to talk about it if it was one of them. And, yes, it stings a lot more acknowledging that Griner isn’t viewed as valuable as the decorated athlete, or even the U.S. citizen, that she is.
Before getting red in the face about the two white men who’ve been detained in Russia longer than Griner (Paul Whelan was arrested in 2018 and Trevor Reed in 2020, Reed was released this past April), they’re Americans, as well, and they also should be brought home and have their families treated in the same manner as Griner’s. However, Griner isn’t Whelan or Reed, no one had to inform us Griner was an American. There are photos of Griner wearing red, white, and blue Team USA jerseys.
The floodgates should’ve immediately been opened because clearly a slow drip obviously didn’t work. The noise would’ve been so loud initially that Biden would’ve been on the phone like Ari Gold, cussing out whichever Russian answered his call. The attention could even help someone like Whelan get the press his detainment deserves. There was a moment to capitalize on the situation, and it simmered for so long it finally boiled over. Be that as it may, if there was ever a scenario to release the tweeters, that was it because it’s embarrassing how easy the public can “forget” about a gender non-conforming Black woman.
The deluge of support would’ve been enough for Putin to get an arms dealer and a couple spies, too. A Russian official said today that all the “hype” is making talks more difficult. Yeah, man, it’s uncomfortable when people are blowing up your phone, pushing you to cut a deal.
NBA commissioner Adam Silver said during the draft lottery in May that the NBA opted not to take public action, citing advice from “experts in and out of government.” Public action wasn’t taken for 100-plus days. That’s a long fucking time to be detained in a Russian jail. Now it’s been more than 130 days. That’s more than enough newscycles to become preoccupied with other crises and forget about a pressing issue.
Like the rest of my coworkers, I heard the advice to keep it quiet and not write about it. It was weird at the time, and now after seeing the attention Griner’s imprisonment has received since people stopped staying silent on it, it’s even worse.
It’s not surprising that the situation is escalating after a few organizations finally snapped government officials in the ass with a towel. I just hope that the latest advice Griner’s taken is better than the initial advice we were given. Ten years for THC is way too long, but it’s been way too long already.