Benjamin Hochman: On Fourth of July, Brittney Griner's freedom remains at stake in Russia

Benjamin Hochman, St. Louis Post-Dispatch on

Published in Basketball

I want to say something about Brittney Griner, but I don’t know what to say.

I don’t know what there is to say, what I can say that hasn’t been said — and what matter will anything I say will make anyway?

It all seems so fruitless. And it’s all so frustrating. But those supporting her have asked Americans to “make noise,” so here’s what I’ve got:

It’s the Fourth of July, and an American Olympic gold medalist who is one of the best athletes of her generation is in a Russian prison, declared by our State Department to be “wrongfully detained.”

I am not going to pretend to be an expert on the intricacies of international politics and prisoner swapping. Some news reports say America’s most valuable trade piece would be an arms-dealing terrorist with the notorious nickname “The Merchant of Death.”

No, I don’t love the idea of freeing “The Merchant of Death.” But I nevertheless believe it’s absurd that Brittney Griner, an American basketball star, has been in Russian prison for more than 130 days — and our government has yet to figure out how to get her out.


Griner was in Russia because some WNBA players supplement their income by playing professionally overseas during the offseason. On Feb. 17, she was detained in a Russian airport after vape cartridges containing cannabis oil allegedly were found in her luggage.

She returns to a Russian courtroom on Friday. If convicted, she could be imprisoned for a decade. Fewer than 1% of defendants in Russian criminal cases are acquitted.

As Colin Allred, a member of the U.S. House of Representatives from Texas, tweeted Sunday afternoon: “Brittney Griner is being used as a political pawn by Russia, and this trial is only theater to give Russia some appearance of having a fair legal system.”

Where is the urgency? If Michael Jordan had been arrested in Russia in the exact same situation, he’d be free now, right? Tom Brady would be free. Patrick Mahomes, Mike Trout, Michael Phelps, Stephen Curry. Shoot, even if it was an average player in a major men’s sport, you’d think he’d be free by now. Yet a future Hall of Famer in women’s basketball — an eight-time All-Star and two-time gold medalist — remains in prison.


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