Out lesbian US basketball player Brittney Griner was convicted by a Russian court on charges of drug possession and smuggling and sentenced to nine years in prison on Thursday. 

US President Joe Biden denounced the verdict and sentence as “unacceptable” and called on Russia to release the athlete immediately so that she could be with her “her wife, loved ones, friends, and teammates”.

President Biden added that he would work to bring both Griner and Paul Whelan, another American imprisoned in Russia under an espionage charge, home.  

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The U.S. government has argued that she is among several Americans who have been “wrongfully detained” by Russia and the Biden administration has offered a prisoner swap to negotiate her release. Russian officials have not confirmed whether this would occur. 

Fighting For Brittney

Brittney Griner with wife Cherelle. Image: Instagram

Brittney’s wife Cherelle hasn’t issued a statement yet. Last month, she had posted a message after receiving a call from President Biden and Vice President Harris.

“I am grateful to the both of them for the time they spent with me and for the commitment they expressed to getting BG home,” Cherelle posted on Instagram.

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“While I will remain concerned and outspoken until she is back home, I am hopeful in knowing that the President read my wife’s letter and took the time to respond. I know BG will be able to find comfort in knowing she has not been forgotten.  I want to thank everyone who has fought so hard for BG. It means the world to my entire family as well as my wife.”

Doctor Prescribed Medical Cannabis For Pain

Griner is one of 11 players to have won an Olympic gold medal, WNBA title, Women’s Basketball World Cup crown and US college championship. The basketball athlete was on the United States women’s Olympic team in 2016 and led them to victory, winning gold at Rio and Tokyo Olympics.

The WNBA star was arrested for being in possession of cannabis oil at Moscow’s Sheremetyevo airport in February. Her arrest occurred days prior to Russia’s invasion of Ukraine and since then, has been entangled in the geopolitical divide between the two countries.

The eight-time all-star with the WNBA’s Phoenix Mercury, was fined 1 million rubles (about $23,110) at the time of the conviction. 

Upon taking the stand on July 7, Griner pled guilty to the charges against her but added that she had “no intention of breaking any Russian law”, and the vape cartridges had been done under “stress packing.”

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She testified that she had a doctor’s prescription for medical cannabis for pain management and was cleared of drugs in her system after her detention in February. 

Coming Out

Griner came out as a lesbian in 2013 when Sports Illustrated reporter Maggie Gray asked her about sexuality.

“I really couldn’t give an answer on why that’s so different. Being one that’s out, it’s just being who you are. Again, like I said, just be who you are,” Griner said.

“Don’t worry about what other people are going to say, because they’re always going to say something, but, if you’re just true to yourself, let that shine through. Don’t hide who you really are.”

Cherelle Griner, wife of Brittney Griner, spoke at a press conference in Chicago in July stating that the letter President Joe Biden wrote in response to her detention has brought them both “so much joy.” 

“I believe every word that she said to him, he understood and he sees her as a person. And he has not forgotten her, which was her biggest cry in her letter,” Cherelle said. 

Griner’s team, Phoenix Mercury, played their first game since Griner’s sentencing on Thursday in Uncasville where players, coaches and fans linked arms for 42 seconds of silence to honour her after news had broken of her 9.5 year sentence in Moscow prison earlier that day. 



 

 

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