The American Political Prisoner the Media Should Be Talking About

Russia is holding an American citizen as a political prisoner.

Yes, you read that right.

Russia is holding an American citizen as a political prisoner.

Why you haven’t heard about it is a very good question.

WMBA basketball player Brittney Griner was arrested at Moscow’s Sheremetyevo International Airport in February for allegedly possessing illegal vape cartridges containing hash oil.

This was just before the unprovoked Russian invasion of Ukraine, ahead of which American citizens were advised to leave Russia.

Yet Griner remained in order to rejoin her Russian team UMMC Ekaterinburg since overseas playing is how WMBA players make the majority of their money.

Dave Zirin, writing for The Nation, asserted:

“Anyone who thinks she is there solely because of the racist war on drugs is living in a fantasy land…Her mugshot has been paraded on Russian state TV—as if she were the prize catch of an overzealous hunter. Given Russia’s war on Ukraine and the world’s economic war on Russia, to not see Brittney Griner as a political prisoner is frankly not to see her at all. That’s why we hear no updates about her from Russian officials. They are dangling her like some kind of bargaining chip, while largely maintaining a disturbing silence.”

Rep. Sheila Jackson Lee, who represents Griner’s home district in Texas, explained:

 “Under the circumstances, I’m obviously concerned and believe the actions of the [Russian] Federal Customs officers was unnecessary. And it was, in my perspective, targeted and purposeful. 

“I don’t underestimate anything that Russia would do. With that in mind, I’ve got to keep fighting on all aspects of the front to ensure her safety.”

Russian officials have stated Griner’s change carries a penalty of 20 years in prison, and that it will take “months” before Griner sees a judge.

But being a WMBA player arrested for narcotics possession isn’t the only characteristic making Brittany Griner’s detainment noteworthy.

Could be, Russia is making an example of her because she is 6-foot 9″, African American, and LGBTQ, married to a woman.

Dave Zirin from The Nation posited:

“Imagine if Kevin Durant were being held in a Russian prison, waiting months for a trial, in the middle of a war. Every day we would have an update, even if it were just to say his name and ensure that he was still in people’s minds. Every day the NBA and the WNBA, with their global reach and political power, would be pressed to ask what they are doing to secure Durant’s freedom.”

He added:

 “Sports radio, the leagues, and Griner’s teammates have remained quiet. The primary reason for this, as I have been told repeatedly off the record in writing this article, is that the State Department is attempting to secure her release, and any effort to raise the profile of her plight could backfire. Choosing silence must be incredibly painful for Griner’s family, friends, and community in the WNBA. It also is a strategy they should consider abandoning.

Griner is a Black, queer, athletic superstar, and that is partly why she is being disregarded by so much of the US sports media. They don’t have a language for her, so they say nothing at all. She is also a remarkably strong person who has endured a great deal in life and has not chosen silence. We should take inspiration from that choice.”

Griner’s teammate on the US national team, A’ja Wilson, said:

“We’re not talking about BG the basketball player, we’re talking about BG the wife, the daughter, the sister, the human being. That’s what I’m caring about. I get the silence and you don’t want to talk about it. I can’t even imagine to put myself in that situation. It’s tough. Hopefully, everyone’s doing what they need to do to make sure she gets home safe.”

State Department spokesman Ned Price told CNN that Griner is “in good condition” after an American diplomat in Moscow was granted consular access to Griner.

Yet Brittany Griner is still a political prisoner and a potential bargaining chip in any future cease-fire negotiations with Russia.

And that should be 24/7 news.

Image credit: Wikipedia

Ted Millar is writer and teacher. His work has been featured in myriad literary journals, including Better Than Starbucks, The Broke Bohemian, Straight Forward Poetry, Caesura, Circle Show, Cactus Heart, Third Wednesday, and The Voices Project. He is also a contributor to The Left Place blog on Substack, Liberal Nation Rising, and Medium.