‘Free BG’: Brittney Griner’s plight spurs outcry across sport and politics
(Bloomberg) — Sports stars and politicians are decrying basketball star Brittney Griner’s nine-year drug sentence by a Russian court.
The Phoenix Mercury player has been detained in Russia since mid-February, when authorities said they found cartridges containing hashish oil in her bag. She was convicted of drug possession and smuggling, and sentenced to nine years in prison on Thursday. The verdict comes after the US offered to swap imprisoned Russian arms dealer Viktor Bout for Griner and former US Marine Paul Whelan.
US President Joe Biden called the ruling “unacceptable,” as did Representative Cori Bush, a Democrat representing parts of St Louis, Missouri.
Texas Senator Ted Cruz, a Republican, joined Senator Ben Cardin, a Democrat from Maryland in blasting Russia for holding her.
WNBA Commissioner Cathy Engelbert and NBA Commissioner Adam Silver called the verdict “unjustified and unfortunate, but not unexpected” in a joint statement. “Brittney Griner remains wrongly detained. The WNBA and NBA’s commitment to her safe return has not wavered and it is our hope that we are near the end of this process of finally bringing BG home to the United States.”
Others who reacted to the news included the WNBA Players Association, which released a thread praising Griner as both a person and athlete. “Given her record of service on and off the court, BG without question deserves compassion and mercy,” the union said. “She deserves to come home.”
Fellow WNBA players also spoke out about the sentencing.
Arike Ogunbowale, a guard with the Dallas Wings, had previously reflected on playing overseas in Russia, which many WNBA players do to supplement their salaries.
“Can’t just play with people’s lives like that,” Ogunbowale tweeted on Thursday. “Sickening.”
In a Twitter thread, Griner’s agent Lindsay Kagawa Colas said the star “is being used as a political pawn.” She urged Biden and Secretary of State Antony Blinken to bring both Griner and Whelan back to the US.
“This is a time for compassion and a shared understanding that getting a deal done to bring Americans home will be hard, but it is urgent and it is the right thing to do,” Colas said.
Actor Mia Farrow and Bravo producer Andy Cohen also asserted their support of Griner, as did singer Justin Bieber, who reposted an ESPN Instagram post to his Stories. CNN host Cari Champion called the sentence “expected but still HORRIFYING.”
ESPN host Mina Kimes pushed back against some people who said the sentence was warranted.
“This is awful, as are many of the replies… People’s brains so poisoned by the politicization of this story that they’ve lost sight of the fact that this is a human being whose future is in peril,” said Kimes. “Heartbreaking all around.”
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