Brittney Griner is 2.06 meters tall and weighs 93 kilos. She wears size 17 men’s shoes and her hands are slightly wider than American basketball star LeBron James’s.

If Ella Griner hadn’t entered the WNBA at age 22, she would have followed in her father’s footsteps and become a police officer.

She has now just been sentenced in a Russian court to 9 years in prison on “drug” charges.

Griner, 31, was arrested at an airport in the Russian capital last February after customs agents found vape cartridges in her luggage containing cannabis oil, which is illegal in Russia and which the athlete claims she used with medicinal purposes.

She has since been in jail and, to reduce her sentence, the Olympic medalist pleaded guilty to drug-related charges, although she said she did not intend to break any laws.

She states that she is “unfairly detained” and asked the Kremlin to release her in a prisoner exchange, although it is unknown if she has received a response on the proposal.


Olympic athlete and basketball star Brittney Griner was arrested in February.

Olympic athlete and basketball star Brittney Griner was arrested in February.

Griner, known to Phoenix Mercury fans as BG and considered the best offensive player in professional women’s basketball in the United States, won her first battle as soon as she joined the WNBA.

She was the first player in the league to dare to say publicly that she was homosexual, without caring about the consequences that her revelation could entail.

“Before Griner, there was a shadow over the league, where she was encouraged to ‘don’t say gay,'” explained sports columnist Tamryn Spruill. “She just said, ‘To hell with that, this is who I am.'”

That daring led her to become the first openly gay athlete (male or female) to be sponsored by the sports firm Nike, after being the first selected in the WNBA recruitment round.

At 31, Griner has won two Olympic gold medals, the Most Valuable Player title in the US Women’s Basketball League, and WNBA and EuroLeague championships.

A native of Houston, Texas, she earned a basketball scholarship to attend Baylor University, where she led the team to a national championship.

Your detention

However, since the end of July Griner has been carrying a nine-year prison sentence for traveling with cannabis oil vapers to Russia, where she used to play in the Euroleague with the UMMC Ekaterinburg team, during the offseason in the United States. Joined.

Griner did the same as other WNBA teammates: playing abroad to increase her income. In Russia she earned five times more than in the United States.

“Pay inequality in the United States has led to the unjust arrest of Brittney Griner in Russia, where she is being used as a political pawn,” explains the WeAreBG portal, a campaign organized by other athletes who belong to the National Women’s Basketball Association.

After Russia’s invasion of Ukraine on February 24, the EuroLeague suspended all Russian teams, prompting the United States and the WNBA to recall their players.

The athlete was about to board a plane back to the United States, when a dog from the Russian Federal Customs Service made the authorities inspect her hand luggage, where they found electronic cigarette cartridges with cannabis oil.

Months later, the sports star pleaded guilty to drug-related charges, though she said she did not intend to break any laws.

During the months of her detention, Cherelle Watson, the athlete’s wife and 28-year-old lawyer, has denounced that the Russian authorities have denied her consular access and communication with her friends and family.

She has just been sentenced in a Russian court to nine years in prison on “drug” charges and a fine of one million rubles (US$16,300).

In addition, the Russian court reported that she must serve the sentence in a penal colony.

The negotiation

US President Joe Biden called Griner’s conviction “unacceptable” and demanded her immediate release.

“Today, American citizen Brittney Griner received a prison sentence that is yet another reminder of what the world already knew: Russia is wrongfully holding Brittney,” he said in a statement.

Days before the sentencing, Secretary of State Anthony Blinken reported that the Biden administration had made a “significant” prisoner-exchange offer to Russia to secure the return of Griner and former Marine Paul Whelan.

“As I sit here in a Russian prison, alone with my thoughts and without the protection of my wife, family, friends, Olympic jersey or any achievement, I am terrified that I will be here forever,” the player wrote in a letter sent to Biden from prison in July.

The US press had reported that the Moscow government was interested in trading the basketball star for convicted Russian arms dealer Viktor Bout.

However, the conviction changed the landscape.

For now, Griner’s lawyers have indicated that they will appeal the decision, after criticizing that the Russian court “completely ignored all the defense evidence and, more importantly, the guilty plea” made by the athlete, with the hope of receiving a lesser sentence.

Upon learning of the sentence, Lindsay Kagawa Colas, Griner’s agent, wrote on Twitter: “This is a time for compassion and a shared understanding that reaching a deal to bring Americans home will be difficult, but it is urgent and it is the right thing”.

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