One of our country’s elite basketball players remains in a Russian prison, a country that’s showed no signs of deescalating its meaningless war against Ukraine and indirectly trying to provoke other countries into joining the conflict.
“The court granted the request of the investigation and extended the period of detention of the U.S. citizen Griner until May 19,” Russian news agency TASS reported.
Griner’s time in Russian custody reached one month on Thursday and might not come to an end soon, as her prison stay was extended two more months, to at least May 19, on Thursday according to TASS. Calls for the seven-time WNBA All-Star’s release have fallen on deaf ears over the past two weeks, after reports of her arrest surfaced earlier this month. Griner, 31, was allegedly trying to travel with hashish oil in her luggage, a common vape cartridge made from cannabis, while at a Moscow airport on Feb. 17.
Fearing a large wave of American news coverage of Griner’s detainment could make her situation worse due to representing an international diplomatic football, those in the two-time Olympic Gold medalists’ inner circle have preferred to work privately in hopes to free Griner. Little is known about the progress of any release. U.S. Secretary of State Antony Blinken said on March 6 the Biden administration had a team working on Griner’s case. In Russia, the charge for carrying cannabis has a maximum jail sentence of 10 years.
Griner has spent her international career in Russia since 2014, playing for UMMC Ekaterinburg, earning over $1 million per season. That’s more than quadruple her yearly WNBA salary. Griner last played for UMMC Ekaterinburg on Jan. 29. Because of her salary, the WNBA serves as secondary income for the league’s stars who play overseas.
A member of Russia’s Public Monitoring Commission told TASS Griner was sharing a cell with two women with no previous convictions. Griner’s only issue was that the prison beds were too short for her 6-foot-9 frame, according to the report.
The WNBA previously confirmed Griner, who plays domestically for the Phoenix Mercury, is the lone league player still in Russia or Ukraine of the more than a dozen who spend the offseason playing professionally in those countries. Other notable players who apply their trade in Eastern Europe are reigning league MVP Jonquel Jones, Courtney Vandersloot, and Allie Quigley.
The U.S. State Department issued a “do not travel” advisory for Russia on March 6 due to its invasion of Ukraine, stating that all U.S. citizens should depart the country immediately, for reasons including “the potential for harassment against U.S. citizens by Russian government security officials” and “the Embassy’s limited ability to assist” American citizens currently in Russia. The 2022 WNBA season is slated to start May 6, less than two weeks before Griner’s currently slated release from prison.
Griner’s return would be the biggest story heading into the 2022 WNBA season. She shouldn’t be in jail right now and every day she spends not as a free woman is an indictment of both Russia and America, for arresting her and not finding a way to secure her release. Efforts need to be ramped up as a result of her sentence being extended, countering any measure that Russia can undeservingly control the life of a high-profile American athlete and citizen. It’s a trickier road because of her fame, not an impossible path to navigate.