Brittney Griner, from American basketball star to prisoner in Russia for drug trafficking

Two-time Olympic gold medalist and star of the Women’s National Basketball Association (WNBA), Brittney Griner was detained upon arrival at Moscow’s Sheremetyevo airport last February.

Almost six months after his arrest, on August 4, a Russian court sentenced the American basketball star to nine years in prison after convicting her of deliberately inserting vape cartridges containing cannabis infusion to Russia even though they are illegal.

Before the verdict, Griner apologized in court and asked for leniency. “I never wanted to hurt anyone, I never wanted to endanger the Russian population, I never wanted to break any laws here,” he said.

What was Griner doing in Russia?

The American basketball player arrived at Moscow’s Sheremetyevo airport on February 17. Like every year since 2014, Griner traveled to Russia during the offseason in the United States league to play with UMMC Ekaterinburga Russian team based in Yekaterinburg that is part of the EuroLeague.

Unlike professional players, players in the United States receive a lower salary, so it is common for a large part of the basketball players to take advantage of the low season and compete with teams abroad.

Following Russia’s invasion of Ukraine on February 24, the Euroleague suspended all Russian teams. Immediately, US officials and the WNBA began the process to get the players out of the country. However, with Griner the story was different, since his arrest occurred just a few days before the outbreak of the war.

According to a statement issued by the Russian Federal Customs Service, a tracking dog located the illegal substance in the player’s luggage. Griner was immediately arrested, but Russian authorities did not release it until three weeks later.

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In the midst of global tension and petitions in favor of Griner, the US government did not comment on the arrest except to ensure that they were working to bring the player home. It was not until May that the State Department He described the detention as “unjust”.

The basketball player pleaded guilty to drug charges in July, in what her attorneys say was an attempt to take responsibility and receive a lenient sentence.

cannabis it is illegal in russia for both medicinal and recreational purposes.

Originally from Houston, Texas, Brittney Griner earned a basketball scholarship to the Baylor Universitywhere he led the team to a national championship.

She is now one of the most dominant players in WNBA history, considered the best offensive player in the league.

Few in American sports have accomplished what Griner has done: win a college championship, WNBA and EuroLeague titles, in addition to an Olympic gold medal.

Photo: Reuters

Its importance goes beyond the game. At 22, Griner came out as gay, right around the time he entered professional sports. She soon after became the first openly gay athlete to be endorsed by Nike.

“In speed racing there is Usain Bolt, in Formula 1 Michael Schumacher, and in women’s basketball is Brittney Griner“, lawyer Maria Blagovolina, a partner at the law firm Rybalkin Gortsunyan Dyakin and Partners, told the court during the hearing in Russia.

Geopolitical ‘Pawn’?

A source familiar with the situation and quoted by Reuters said that Washington was willing to trade convicted arms dealer Viktor Boutwhose life helped inspire the 2005 Hollywood movie “The Warlord,” starring Nicholas Cage.

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Russian officials have said that no agreement has been reached. They argue that Griner, known as “BG” to basketball fans, broke the law and should be prosecuted accordingly.

Griner appeared in the audience wearing a gray T-shirt and round-rimmed glasses. Before sitting in the cage of the accused, he showed a photo of the UMMC Ekaterinburg team, the team he played for in Russia during the WNBA offseason.

Photo: Reuters

In his testimony last week, Griner expressed puzzlement over how the vape cartridges ended up in his luggage as he flew back to Russia to join UMMC Ekaterinburg for the playoffs.

“I still don’t understand to this day how they ended up in my bag,” Griner said.

“If I had to guess how they ended up in my bags, I was in a hurry to pack“.

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