Is a WNBA Player Now a POW in Russia?

Jonas Petrovas /

Brittney Griner is a star in the Women’s National Basketball Association (WNBA). She has been held in Russian custody since February after Russian Federal Customs Service officials say they found vape cartridges that contained hashish oil in her luggage at the airport.

A Russian state news agency, TASS, recently reported that a court in Moscow has decided to extend Griner’s detention so it looks like she will be held by Russian authorities for another two months, at least.

Griner was returning from a basketball tournament that served as a qualifier for the World Cup. Aron Solomon, Chief Legal Analyst for Esquire Digital, said that the charges against Griner indicate the amount that was found would be considered “trafficable.” So the sentence could be 10 years in prison.

Solomon also said, “Now, I personally will tell you that there have been American athletes who’ve been playing for many years in places like Russia…who knows what she had in her possession that she might’ve thought was [an] extremely minor thing?”

He went on to explain that with Russia, there may be some “grains of truth” in the story but all we know is what they are telling us right now.

The timing of this story could not be worse. Since Russia invaded Ukraine, relations with the United States are certainly tense. Some do not believe that Griner can receive a fair trial in Russia today. So the stakes are quite high for this athlete.

Solomon said, “The rule of law that we often take for granted in the United States doesn’t exist in Russia. So, when people ask me all the time about this case to make predictions — predictions as to whether she’s really going to get in front of a judge now on May 19th, predictions as to when Brittney Griner is going to get out of detainment — it’s impossible to make because it’s based entirely on something that is anti-legal, which is caprice, which is the government’s desire to do whatever they want when they want.”

No one from the government of the United States was able to see Griner until this week. Ned Price, a U.S. State Department spokesperson, told CNN that an official from the U.S. Embassy was given consular access to Griner. Price said that they were able to check on her condition and they will work with her legal team to make sure she is treated fairly. They said they will send that message to Russia in “no uncertain terms.”

Price also relayed that she was in “good condition.” This is something Solomon was sure would continue. He believes that Russia knows that Griner is a valuable chess piece right now in the world situation and they will make sure that she is physically taken care of. He did question what it is like for the WNBA player spiritually and emotionally. And Solomon is not sure that getting Griner home is going to be an easy task.

Solomon said that we should think of Griner as a political prisoner. He makes this distinction because no one really knows exactly what her charges are. He said that this case will play out as long as it benefits Russia due to their place in the world right now.

Solomon addressed the issue regarding why this has stayed under the radar in our media. He said that this case reflects how many in the United States see women’s sports. He also said that Griner was in Russia because athletes like her have to go to places like that to earn money because of how little they are paid.

A teammate of Griner’s, Diana Taurasi, said, “We had to go to a communist country to get paid like capitalists.”

Let’s hope that justice is served in this case and Brittney Griner will soon be home.