Could the U.S. Be Doing More to Free Brittney Griner?

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Image: Mike Mattina/Getty Images.

You could feel the pain in Cherelle Griner’s voice as she spoke publicly for the first time about her spouse, WNBA star Brittney Griner, who has been detained in Russia on Feb. 17.

As EBONY previously reported, Griner was detained at Sheremetyevo International Airport near Moscow for allegedly having vape cartridges in her luggage that contained hashish oil, an illegal substance in Russia.

If convicted, the Phoenix Mercury center could be facing up to 10 years in prison.

Cherelle Griner responded eloquently to all the questions thrown her way, doing her best to mask the hurt and pain that she and so many of us are feeling right now.

And like so many of us, Cherelle is anxious to see Brittney back home in the United States which is complicated for far too many reasons to fully address in one column.

But as the days continue to pass with little to no signs of Brittney being released, lots of questions continue to be raised about whether the United States Government is operating with a heightened sense of urgency to bring the two-time Olympian home.

And if not, folks have publicly wondered how different would all this play out if it were LeBron James or maybe another less-renowned, Olympic-caliber talent like Paul George of the Los Angeles Clippers or Khris Middleton of the Milwaukee Bucks, stuck in a Russian detention center.

If any of the aforementioned players were being detained overseas, the questions we would be asking now wouldn’t be focused on when they were coming home, but more about what their next move will be now that they are back in the United States.

Sadly, Griner isn’t the first American arrested in a foreign country deemed by the United States government as being “wrongfully detained.”

The cost of her freedom will surely be high.

But if the government plans to stick to its word, it’s a price they should be vigorous in their willingness to pay.

“You (U.S. Government) say she’s top priority, but I wanna see it, and I feel like to see it would be me seeing BG on U.S. soil,” Cherelle Griner told Robin Roberts during an episode of Good Morning America this week.

We have seen several Americans in recent years detained overseas, with many being imprisoned for years before being released.

So the idea of it taking longer than most would prefer, should come as no surprise.

But never has there been an American athlete arrested and detained with the kind of big-name notoriety and stature of the 6-foot-9 Griner.

In addition to being a two-time Olympic gold-medal winner, Griner won an NBA championship with the Phoenix Mercury in 2014.

She’s also a seven-time WNBA All-Star in addition to being a two-time scoring champion.

Griner has also been among the most dominant players overseas, a three-time National Russian League champion with UMMC Ekaterinburg; a four-time Euroleague champion; not to mention all the accolades acquired at Baylor where Griner won a national championship and was named the AP College Player of the Year (2012) and then the No. 1 overall pick in 2013 by the Phoenix Mercury.

The Russian rules of law have always been tricky for non-Russians, with a judicial system that is no stranger to using American citizens as a political pawn to bargain for the release of Russian citizens jailed in the United States.

When the U.S. Government determined Brittney was “wrongfully detained” by Russia, that’s often the catalyst for the United States to engage in discussion about a potential swap.

But actual movement on that front has been slow; certainly slower than Cherelle or Brittney’s legion of fans and fellow WNBAers would want to see.

Yes, the often-chilly relationship between the United States and Russia doesn’t help matters.

Ditto for Russia’s unprovoked invasion of Ukraine which occurred about a week after Griner’s detainment.

How much has that played into Griner’s detainment? No one knows for sure.

But the idea that this process might be fast-tracked if it were an NBA player rather than a WNBA player, isn’t that far-fetched.

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