After nearly 10 months of imprisonment in Russia, WNBA (Women’s National Basketball Association) star Brittney Griner has been freed after a deal between U.S. President Joe Biden and Russian President Vladimir Putin that involved a trade with Russian arms trader Viktor Bout.  Originally, the U.S. tried to add former Marine Paul Whelan who has been imprisoned on espionage into the deal but in the end it was a one for one trade.

Griner was arrested February 17 when some cannabis vape cartridges were found in her luggage.  Griner was in Russia to play basketball for one of the Russian teams.  In her last season with the WNBA Griner was paid $221,450; as one of many WNBA players who traveled overseas to play basketball in the off season, she earned over $1 million playing for the Russian team – the UMMC Ekaterinburg.

While there are some who have any number of issues with Griner being freed, the one that appears to be foremost on social media posts is her protest involving the American National Anthem. 

In recent years, the news services have featured a number of headlines involving violence and even death against people of colour, San Francisco 49ers quarterback Colin Kapernick began a movement where he would kneel during the playing of the National Anthem.  He was soon joined by athletes of other sports including the WNBA.  Griner took the peaceful protest one step further with her and her teammates staying in the locker room during the playing of the anthem.  “I honestly feel we should not play the National Anthem during our season.  I think we should take that much of a stand.  I don’t mean that in any disrespect to our country. My dad was in Vietnam and a law officer for 30 years. I wanted to be a cop before basketball. I do have pride for my country.”

Added, “I’m going to protest regardless.  I’m not going to be out there for the National Anthem. If the league continues to want to play it, that’s fine. It will be all season long, I’ll not be out there. I feel like more are going to probably do the same thing. I can only speak for myself.”

Her activist activities went beyond that of police brutality; she urged people to vote, raised funding for COVID relief, and helped to raise money for Arizona animal shelters.

Considered a “living legend” in WNBA circles, Griner is a seven time WNBA All Star and helped to take her team – the Phoenix Mercury – to a championship in only her second year in the league.  She set the dunking record in her professional debut with the Phoenix Mercury.  She currently holds the record with 23 dunks.

In college she set records never before seen in the NCAA by ANY player including scoring 2,000 points and blocking 500 and this was after being named a prodigy in high school where she practiced with the boys team.  She was named a member of the women’s basketball team for the 2012 Olympics in London but refused the invitation citing obligations in college at Baylor University.  However, she did return for the 2016 in and 2020 Olympics where the women’s basketball team brought home the gold medal.

An Amazon at well over six feet tall and a lesbian, Griner endured more than her share of taunting as a child which led her to a desire to spend time helping children and members of the LGBTQ+ community.

Feature photo credit: Brittney Griner 3.jpg