With Brittney Griner’s Russia trial underway, more and more questions are being raised as to whether she would have been released by now if she were a male athlete rather than a Black female, openly gay WNBA star.
The Fourth of July came and went, but this one felt different from others.
It’s a time when we celebrate with family and friends the freedoms enjoyed by all Americans, liberties that we pretend to cherish but sadly, are far too often taken for granted.
That is a sentiment many share now more than ever as WNBA star Brittney Griner remains jailed in a Russian prison as her trial is underway.
Rehashing the trumped-up charges against her at this point is a useless endeavor.
It doesn’t matter if the charges are true or not. Griner being found innocent in Russia has a needle in a haystack—make that a field of haystacks—chances of coming to fruition.
“It’s not usually a question of what the verdict will be,” Thomas Firestone, a former resident legal adviser to the U.S. Embassy in Moscow, told the Washington Post. “It’s more a question of what the sentence will be.”
But would this be an issue if this was someone of significant notoriety that wasn’t named Brittney Griner?
Her head coach with the Phoenix Mercury, Vanessa Nygaard, certainly thinks so.
"If it was LeBron (James), he'd be home, right?" Nygaard told reporters. "It's a statement about the value of women. It's a statement about the value of a Black person. It's a statement about the value of a gay person. All of those things. We know it, and so that's what hurts a little more."
Griner is a Black woman who is gay, a trifecta of traits that on their own individual merits, have never been given a fair shake in a country as liberal as the United States.
No matter how daunting United States officials say it is to get Griner’s release, and most of what they say makes sense, it’s hard to shake the feeling that if this were LeBron James, Tom Brady or some other high-profile athlete, somehow a path towards their return to the United States would have been cleared by now.
“We believe...she’s being wrongfully detained,” White House Press Secretary Karine Jean-Pierre, told reporters. “This is an issue that’s a priority for this president.”
That sounds good, but the words and the president’s walk are not aligned.
Griner is a star athlete, a generational talent who has been one of the best in the WNBA since she came into the league in 2013.
And yet there is a question that everyone seems to ask themselves, but few are brave enough to speak it into existence.
Would Brittney Griner be in jail if she were LeBron James, Tom Brady or some other highly-regarded male athlete?
It’s the uncomfortable truth about female athletes whose success and value on so many levels, is measured by a different, unequal and unfair calculus compared to their male counterparts.
And so here we find ourselves with the Fourth of July behind us, but still feeling some semblance of the patriotic pull when we think about freedom and in this instance, when that freedom is taken away.
Americans find themselves spending more time lately worrying and waiting and wishing for Griner’s return from a Russian prison.
Griner recently wrote a letter to President Joe Biden, telling him about her father who was a Vietnam War veteran, explaining the fear she is feeling now and her hoping that at this time, he won’t “forget about me and the other American Detainees.”
The issue isn’t whether he has forgotten about them. He hasn’t.
There’s a larger issue at play here, a legitimate concern that something would have been done by now if this wasn’t a Black, gay woman jailed in Russia—one of the worst places on the planet for someone who belongs to the LGBTQ+ community—but instead a high-profile, comparably dynamic star who was a heterosexual male?
We are led to believe that those are not factors in the United States’ discussions with Russia on Griner’s behalf, reminding us whenever they can that they are doing all they can right now to bring her home.
Here’s a thought.
Treat her situation with the same sense of urgency you would if she were LeBron James or Tom Brady who had been jailed in Russia.
That should be enough to get her home, where she belongs.