Phoenix Mercury star center Britteny Griner remains detained in Russian amid Ukrainian War

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Alexis Davis, theSCORE Lead Reporter

At the beginning of March, Phoenix Mercury center Britney Griner was detained in Russia. Before the 7-time All-Star was identified, Russian customs officials stated they had detained a U.S. basketball player. 

The Russian Federal Customs Service swept Griner’s luggage at the Sheremetyevo airport in close proximity to Moscow. Griner was arrested due to vape cartridges containing hashish oil found in her luggage. If convicted, Griner could face up to 10 years in Russian prison.

Griner’s detainment surpasses another basketball star simply making headlines. Her situation differs because she is a political prisoner. The New York Times reported President Vladimir V. Putin of Russia stated that the sanctions were “akin to a declaration of war.”

In addition to the former Baylor standout’s arrest, the U.S. travel department also advised U.S. citizens to not travel to Russia. If citizens are currently in Russia, they may be subjected to harassment from Russian government security officials.

The footage of the 31-year-old athlete also was timestamped for the latter part of February. Notification of Griner’s detainment did not occur until the following month. Avid basketball fans and political specialists also speculate that there is not enough attention on the issue because she is a black woman.

“I feel like if she wasn’t black then there would be more attention and effort on trying to get her back to the states as soon as possible,” Imani Collins, a information technology senior at N.C. A&T said. “Also the charges wouldn’t be as bad if she wasn’t black as well.”

Russia’s Customs Service has a criminal case open against Griner including the large-scale transportation of drugs. The large-scale transportation aspect of the case is confusing to many U.S. citizens following the case because Griner possessed under the amount allotted for trafficking.

The Olympic gold medalist arrest was extended until May 2022. On the night of March 23, 2022 an official from the US embassy in Moscow found Griner to be in “good condition.” The star’s legal team was recently granted consular access.

“I feel like more needs to be done to protect her [and] to bring her home,” Madison Murray, a multimedia journalism senior said. “I think a good amount of the public knows what is going on and it’s a shame that some of the heavy hitters are choosing to stay mute and not even donate a social media post stating that they stand with her.”

In 2020, Russia detained two U.S. marines on separate occasions. One marine was detained after being accused of endangering Russian police. The claims were deemed false, but the marine remained in custody. Later in the year, another marine was sentenced to 16 years in Russian prison on espionage charges.

Up until the release of the news of Griner’s detainment, many members of the public did not know Griner spends her WNBA off-season in Russia. At 6 feet 9 inches, Griner fills a leading role on the Russian Team UMMC Ekaterinburg. Fellow Mercury teammate Diana Taurasi also has played overseas in Russia.

For many WNBA standouts, opting out of off-season rest for international court time has more to do with the financial benefits than the extra reps. Current WNBA players have dedicated time to playing in countries ranging from China and Turkey to Poland and Israel.

“Honestly, I think that Britney Griner being detained is crazy because I believe she’s being used as a political pawn even though U.S. officials say they want to ensure her safe return and her detainment isn’t a punishment to the U.S.,” Teonja Tatum, a senior public relations student at N.C. A&T said.

The financial gain of loading up their gym shoes and basketballs and taking them overseas is a fair payoff. The maximum base salary for the 2022 season is $228, 094 with the minimum being $60, 471. When viewing these numbers, it is alarming to compare them to salaries of their male counterparts. Los Angeles Laker floor general, Lebron James, easily sees easily more than $40 million dollars a year while most WNBA players never see $1 million dollars during their entire career  .

Liz Cambage recently told Malika Andrews on “NBA Today” that her salary in Australia has varied between five to eight times more than what she ever saw as a player in the WNBA.