Illustration by staff illustrator Sakura Siegel.
Brittney Griner has been jailed in Russia since mid-February.
The WNBA star appears in court today, Tuesday, as she faces a possible 10-year sentence.
The Phoenix Mercury center played for UMMC Ekaterinburg in the Russian Premier league during the WNBA offseason. When she was leaving the country, she was detained after the Russian Federal Customs Service found vape canisters containing cannabis oil in her luggage.
Since then, Griner’s teammates have continued to keep her name in the media by wearing “We are BG” shirts during warm-ups and social media posts. WNBA teams have also continued to honor Griner by supporting her charity BG’s Heart and Sole Show, which is a shoe drive to help those in Phoenix.
Phoenix Mercury players wearing "We are BG" shirts during warm-ups 🙏 pic.twitter.com/SJfMwOVgh3
— Bleacher Report (@BleacherReport) May 7, 2022
The Connecticut Sun and Los Angeles Sparks are the latest WNBA teams to donate dozens of pairs to Covenant House California.
“We hope that BG feels our love and support during this difficult time, and we hope that she comes home soon,” Sun President Jen Rizotti said.
But outside of the WNBA, support and help could be seen as scarce.
Civil rights activist Al Sharpton released a statement on Monday, pushing the NBA to finish the ongoing investigation on NBA team Phoenix Suns owner Robert Sarver – who was accused of racism and misogyny in November – and focus on efforts to bring Griner home and out of the Russian prison.
“It is incomprehensible that the NBA has remained largely silent on both Brittney Griner and Robert Sarver,” Sharpton said in a statement to Sports Illustrated.
“These issues are not unrelated to each other — not just because Robert Sarver is also the owner of the Phoenix Mercury, Brittney’s team, but also because they have everything to do with fairness and justice in an organization that claims to care about these principles.
“Enough is enough. I was patient when the NBA told me the Sarver investigation would be wrapped up by April; but April came and went. Then they told me in June to wait a few more weeks; but June came and went. It is now (almost) August, and not only is there no end in sight on the Sarver investigation, but the league has also failed to step up to help bring Brittney home.”
“My patience has run out. I am calling on the NBA to help us bring Brittney home, wrap this investigation up and send a message that Robert Sarver and his hateful behavior have no place in this organization.”
Sharpton has been acting alongside Griner’s wife, Cherelle. They argue that Griner has been wrongfully detained.
The Russian Foreign Ministry, however, maintains that Griner’s arrest and detainment is justified.
“If a U.S. citizen was taken in connection with the fact that she was smuggling drugs, and she does not deny this, then this should be commensurate with our Russian local laws and not with those adopted in San Francisco, New York and Washington,” Ministry spokesperson Maria Zakharova said.
Earlier this month, Griner pleaded guilty to drug possession, saying that she had no intention of committing a crime and “had acted unintentionally because she had packed for Moscow in a hurry.”
On that day of the trial, Griner was taken to the courtroom in handcuffs and held a photo of her wife, Cherelle.
U.S. Secretary of State Antony Blinken said Washington will continue to work on Griner’s release.
On the Fourth of July, Griner’s representatives released excerpts of her letter to U.S. President Joe Biden in a plea for her freedom.
“As I sit here in a Russian prison, alone with my thoughts and without the protection of my wife, family, friends, Olympic jersey, or any accomplishments, I’m terrified I might be here forever.”
“On the 4th of July, our family normally honors the service of those who fought for our freedom, including my father who is a Vietnam War Veteran. It hurts thinking about how I usually celebrate this day because freedom means something completely different to me this year.”
“I realize you are dealing with so much, but please don’t forget about me and the other American Detainees. Please do all you can to bring us home. I voted for the first time in 2020 and I voted for you. I believe in you. I still have so much good to do with my freedom that you can help restore. I miss my wife! I miss my family! I miss my teammates! It kills me to know they are suffering so much right now. I am grateful for whatever you can do at this moment to get me home.”
Biden and Vice President Kamala Harris had a call with Cherelle and assured that the President is “working to secure Brittney’s release as soon as possible,” the White House said in a statement. The Biden administration agrees that Griner has been wrongfully detained.
In Griner’s last court appearance, on July 15, one of the basketball star’s attorney’s gave the court a doctor’s letter that recommended Griner use medical cannabis to treat pain. But medical marijuana is not legal in Russia.
At Tuesday’s hearing, a narcologist was brought in by Griner’s lawyers to say the cannabis was medically prescribed. Griner will testify in the trial on Wednesday.