First Thing, Daily Maverick's flagship newsletter

Join the 230 000 South Africans who read First Thing newsletter.

‘Free BG’: Brittney Griner’s plight spurs outcry...



‘Free BG’: Brittney Griner’s plight spurs outcry across sport and politics

Two-time Olympic gold medallist and WNBA player Brittney Griner (right) is escorted to hear the verdict in Khimki City court outside Moscow, on 4 August 2022. The court sentenced Griner to nine years in prison after finding her guilty on charges of drug smuggling. (Photo: EPA-EFE / Maxim Shipenkov)
By Bloomberg
05 Aug 2022 2

(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.

Professional sport

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.”

More stories like this are available on

©2022 Bloomberg L.P.

Comments - share your knowledge and experience

Please note you must be a Maverick Insider to comment. Sign up here or sign in if you are already an Insider.

Everybody has an opinion but not everyone has the knowledge and the experience to contribute meaningfully to a discussion. That’s what we want from our members. Help us learn with your expertise and insights on articles that we publish. We encourage different, respectful viewpoints to further our understanding of the world. View our comments policy here.

All Comments 2

  • She admitted she had broken the Russian law. There are more than 4000 Americans in foreign jails for breaking in country laws. What, apart from her celebrity status, makes BG more deserving of release than any of them?

  • Meanwhile hundreds of thousands of American languishing in US jails for the same crime of minor drug possession are wondering why the govt that incarcerated them is objecting to the Russian govt doing the same.

Please peer review 3 community comments before your comment can be posted