OPINION | Brittney Griner: The “unworthy” American, apparently


Courtesy of WikiCommons

On Dec. 8, 2022, women’s basketball star Brittney Griner was released from a Russian penal colony and returned to the United States. 

After 10 months in foreign captivity, Russia agreed to a prisoner swap with the Biden Administration by exchanging Griner for Viktor Bout, a Russian arms dealer nicknamed the “Merchant of Death.”   

The news of an American being released and returning home should’ve been celebrated. However, many were upset over Griner’s release.

First, critics of the Griner swap claim she deserved her prison sentence. For clarification, Griner was arrested on Feb. 17 at a Moscow airport on drug charges. 

Former President Donald Trump condemned her, calling her “spoiled” and saying, “don’t go in [Russia] loaded up with drugs.” 

I find it ironic that a man who tried to overturn an election, incited a riot at the capitol, stole classified documents from the government and committed multiple counts of tax fraud is criticizing others for not following the law.

Unlike Trump, I believe no one is above the law. If someone committed a crime, they should do the time. Griner broke the law by having possession of 0.45 grams of hash oil. 

In Russia, possession of less than a gram of cannabis is punishable by up to 15 days in prison. Griner was sentenced to nine years.     

Her sentence was unjustified. Her treatment by Russian media was a clear indicator she was used for political leverage amidst the escalating tensions between Russia and the U.S.

Griner should have spent 15 days in prison. Her nine-year sentence was for more than just drug charges; she was a political prisoner. 

Critics condemned the Biden Administration for trading away Bout. To them, the swap was a dangerous decision that could result in Americans’ deaths.

Bout is a dangerous person – I won’t deny that. He joined the arms-dealing business in the 90s by selling unused military planes.  

He was sentenced to 25 years in a U.S. prison in April 2012 for attempting to supply weapons to a South American terrorist organization with the goal of murdering U.S. officials and citizens. 

While his release isn’t ideal, the danger he poses to America is minute. His time in prison has likely diminished his connections to the arms-dealing business. 

Also, Congress recently passed a record $858 billion defense budget. The U.S. has given $68 billion in aid to Ukraine in its war against Russia, with another $37.7 billion in aid potentially around the corner. 

Rest assured, the U.S. can handle the “Merchant of Death.”

Additionally, critics have cited Paul Whelan, a former U.S. Marine who was detained by Russia and sentenced to 16 years in Russian prison, who still has not been released.

Critics have chastised Biden for not securing a trade for Whelan, believing his time in the military makes him more American than Griner. The far-right accused Biden of playing identity politics, favoring Griner over Whelan because she is a Black lesbian woman. 

“They wouldn’t allow a Black woman, a lesbian woman, drug addict, America-hating woke, to be kept in prison in Russia. One of ours. Not the Marine. Not the person who served this country,” Benny Johnson, a far-right political pundit, said.  

To Johnson, an American’s worth is dependent on what they have done for their country. Their level of patriotism is what makes someone “one of ours.” For some reason, Griner being a two-time American gold medalist is not “patriotic” enough. 

Whelan should be freed. It is unfortunate he has to suffer and I hope he’s returned home soon. 

However, Whelan’s time as a Marine does not make him more American or worthy of freedom than Griner. Furthermore, her identity as a Black lesbian did not earn her “woke” political points with Biden. 

While critics’ criticism of Biden is relentless, those against the trade never turned their ire towards Trump, who denied a deal for Whelan’s release during his presidency. 

This becomes more puzzling because the Biden Administration proposed a deal to bring back Whelan and Griner.

Perhaps it was Trump who didn’t value the patriotism of both Griner and Whelan. 

Far-right pundits have claimed Griner doesn’t deserve freedom because of her criticisms of the police. 

In the summer of 2020, during the height of the George Floyd protests, Griner commented that the WNBA “should not play the national anthem” during games. 

She sat out the anthem and wore Breonna Taylor’s last name on her jersey. Taylor was a victim of police brutality on March 13, 2020, when she was shot dead while sleeping in her apartment.

On Twitter, conservative figure Tomi Lahren tweeted, “Brittney Griner is a cautionary tale. Hate America? Think it’s oppressive? Go to another country, play stupid games and find out what oppression and ‘No justice’ looks like. Too bad, so sad.” 

Conservatives seem eager to let Griner suffer in Russia for expressing her thoughts on police brutality. Even if they disagree, being adamant that she deserves to rot in a penal colony because she exercised her freedom of speech and her right to protest is fundamentally un-American and disgustingly inhumane. 

I cannot imagine how Griner felt when she returned. After being held hostage for 10 months, her arrival has been met with disdain for her existence. 

Amid hatred and bigotry, I hope she knows there are Americans out there happy to see her finally return home.