How have celebrities reacted to Brittney Griner’s 9-year Russian prison sentence?
While some conservative voices have been blasé about the WNBA star’s conviction in Russia, the sport and entertainment world is foursquare behind her.
When Phoenix Mercury center and eight time All-Star Brittney Griner was detained in Moscow’s Sheremetyevo International Airport back in February with a vape pen containing hash oil, alarm bells began ringing.
First there was the fact that her detention went largely unreported for over a month. Then the Russian officials took an inordinately long amount of time to produce any charges against her, or indeed to produce Griner herself.
With the timing of this arrest coming at the beginning of Russia’s illegal invasion of Ukraine and the following sanctions placed on the country by the US and European Union, there was an undercurrent of thought that this arrest was largely political in nature.
The reality is that cannabis use, in any form, is illegal in Russia and they have a strict “zero-tolerance” policy, so there was always going to be a sentence that would ruffle many American feathers, given that cannabis use in the States ranges from legal to largely tolerated and most convictions are fairly mild in relation to the drug.
With the majority of convicted cannabis cases in Russia getting slapped with three-year sentences, that seemed to be a target that her family could expect the courts to hand down. When they chose to hand down close to the maximum sentence in giving Ms Griner 9.5 years, many reacted with shock, although this seems to have been the plan all along for Putin’s regime.
Hoping for a high-profile prisoner swap, the Russian state wants desperately to beef this story up so as to inflate its importance. A “silly American who brought a cannabis vape pen” would never do. She needed to be turned into an international drug smuggler, attempting to defile Russian soil with this vile poison. Only then would it make sense to swap her for Viktor Bout, the arms dealer known as the Merchant of Death, and FSB (formerly known as the KGB) hit-man Vadim Krasikov.
These two are top-level bad guys, clear and present threats to civilized people everywhere. She is a basketball player. Welcome to the insane world of international political football. Brittney Griner has now been presented, all shiny and new, as a drug dealer to the Russian public. A merchant of poison, who can be legitimately swapped for such vile men as gun runners and assassins.
While it is important to keep in mind that President Biden’s assertion that Russia’s detention of Ms Griner is “illegal” is clearly untrue, he could certainly have a point that her sentence is “unacceptable.” Without getting into the obvious rub of laws in different countries being apples and oranges, it is clear that the Russian court has overstepped their own sentencing guidelines in this case, presumably at the behest of the Kremlin for political purposes.
The sports and entertainment world have all gone on record as offering their support for Brittney, with singer Justin Bieber asking via his Instagram, “If anyone knows of anyway I can help please let me know.”
Rapper 50 Cent also went to Instagram to share that he was watching Fox News when the story about Griner broke, calling the entire situation “wild.”
Actress Gabrielle Union the hashtag “WeAreBG,” which many athletes and celebrities have been using to rally behind Griner, writing “Bring her home!!!”
TV personality Andy Cohen took to Twitter to express his support for Griner, echoing the sentiment, “Bring Brittney home.”
Jada Pinkett Smith shared her heartbreak with Griner’s sentencing coming on the same day as the announcement that police officers would be formally charged in the death of Breonna Taylor.
Actress and activist Mia Farrow weighed in with her support for Griner, tweeting that the sentence handed down was “heartbreaking.”
Daily Show host Trevor Noah was classically blunt in his assessment of the story, calling Griner’s imprisonment “bullshit.” Noah continued, “We all know Russia doesn’t care about what Brittney Griner did. This is the same country that’s breaking every human rights law on the planet, but they’re like, ‘That woman has vape cartridge. She’s real criminal.’”
The WNBA also released a statement pledging their support for Griner and her cause. “Today’s verdict and sentence, while inevitable, is disappointing.” They then go on to call on the President to do whatever necessary to bring Brittney Griner back to the US. “We are counting on this administration.”
The United States has long opposed the idea of prisoner trades, but with the swapping of Trevor Reed for drug dealer Konstantin Yaroshenko, the Biden administration would seem to have gotten a taste for it. How it will develop is anyone’s guess, but with it going from ridiculous to farce, perhaps it will settle into predictable.