W.N.B.A player convicted for smuggling illegal narcotics

Brittney Griner faces trial in Russia amidst W.N.B.A. season

An+illustration+of+W.N.B.A.+Brittney+Griner.+The+Phoenix+Mercury+player+Brittney+Griner+was+found+guilty+for+smuggling+illegal+narcotics+into+Russia+on+Aug.+4.+

Alena Suleiman

An illustration of W.N.B.A. Brittney Griner. The Phoenix Mercury player Brittney Griner was found guilty for smuggling illegal narcotics into Russia on Aug. 4.

W.N.B.A’s Phoenix Mercury player Brittney Griner was found guilty for smuggling illegal narcotics into Russia on Aug. 4. 

Griner originally traveled to Russia for the purpose of playing for the UMMC Ekaterinburg team during the W.N.B.A. off-season.

After being detained at the airport in Khimki, Russia on account of accusations of her having two vape cartridges with hashish oil on Feb. 24, Griner was held in custody until July 2, with her pretrial detainment time being extended four times. In between her arrest and trial, the United State Department issued a statement asking for contact with Griner and labeling her case as a wrongful detainment. 

Fellow professional basketball players also advocated for Griner’s release. Los Angeles Lakers team member Lebron James joined the #FreeGriner trend on Twitter with a statement of his own, advocating for her.

“We need to come together and help do whatever we possibly can to bring BG home quickly and safely!! Our voice as athletes is stronger together. #WeAreBG,” James tweeted

Upper school varsity girls basketball team member Claire Miao (11) offers her initial reaction to the arrest.

“I first heard about the news a while ago, and my first reaction was that I did not know who she was prior to her trial,” Claire said. “I was really surprised because Russia has been a controversial topic lately, and I didn’t think that a W.N.B.A. player would be detained. In the US, it wouldn’t be broadcast as much.” 

Once the trial started in July, Griner pled guilty on drug charges, with her legal team hoping for the case to end soon. Although Griner testified that she did not intentionally put the drugs in her luggage, she did not deny the fact that she was in possession of them in Russia.

“I think she definitely should have been more educated about the legality of drugs before going to Russia,” Claire said. “I know that having vape cartridges or marijuana is legal in a lot of areas in the United States. She did not know that she was doing something wrong, but when you go to another country, you have to research before you go. You have to adhere to their government as well as their law.”

I don’t think Griner was wrongfully detained because she broke another country’s law. I was surprised that she was convicted since a lot of the N.B.A. was lobbying for her. The W.N.B.A has more buzz surrounding it now, which is a learning lesson for traveling players”

— Claire Miao (11), upper school varsity girls basketball team member

The medical cannabis that Griner had purchased in the U.S. was legally certified but not in Russia, which is why supporters turned to the W.N.B.A. to determine another issue that Griner could have avoided. It is widely known that W.N.B.A players do not make equal pay as their counterparts at the N.B.A, so, potentially, Griner played for a Russian team to earn more as an international player. 

“I feel like with the whole #FreeGriner trend, there’s a valid reason and I see why people are saying it because she was going to go play in Russia for the offseason,” Claire said. “People are saying that if the W.N.B.A. players made more money she wouldn’t have to be in Russia, and this would not have happened. But that isn’t enough of an argument, she could have gone to Russia and brought the cartridges with her either way.”

On Aug. 4, the judges of the Russian court sentenced Griner to nine years in penal colony, after which, her lawyers filed for an appeal for her conviction. Griner advocates raised the suggestion of a prisoner swap prior to her trial, but it was only in mid-August that officials confirmed that they were engaged in diplomatic negotiations.

“For future drug scandals, I guess it sets a precedent, and people will have to be more educated about international laws,” Claire said. “I don’t think Griner was wrongfully detained because she broke another country’s law. I was surprised that she was convicted since a lot of the N.B.A. was lobbying for her. The W.N.B.A has more buzz surrounding it now, which is a learning lesson for traveling players.”