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Russia’s invasion of Ukraine hits the WNBA

Basketball

The GIST: Phoenix Mercury star Brittney Griner — who plays abroad with Russia’s UMMC Ekaterinburg during the WNBA offseason — has been detained in the country after customs officials reportedly found vape cartridges in her luggage. Terrifying.

March 07, 2022
CHRISTIAN PETERSEN/GETTY IMAGES
CHRISTIAN PETERSEN/GETTY IMAGES

The GIST: Phoenix Mercury star Brittney Griner — who plays abroad with Russia’s UMMC Ekaterinburg during the WNBA offseason — has been detained in the country after customs officials reportedly found vape cartridges in her luggage. Terrifying.

The details: Although this story broke on Saturday, reports indicate that Griner was taken into custody in February for carrying vape cartridges containing hashish oil (aka marijuana) in her luggage — a crime in Russia that could mean up to 10 years in prison.

The context: Many WNBA players compete overseas in the offseason to supplement their modest W salaries. The league confirmed last week that all other players who had been competing in Russia and Ukraine were no longer in the countries.

  • Shortly following Saturday’s news, the W released a statement saying Griner has the league’s “full support” and that the “main priority is her swift and safe return to the United States.”
  • Adding another scary layer to this story is the concern that Russia could be using Griner as a “high-profile hostage” to gain leverage in negotiations with the U.S.

The bigger picture: As a Black, lesbian woman being held in a country with appalling anti-LGBTQIA+ laws, Griner’s mental and physical well-being are of primary concern.

  • Plus, this story raises further questions, like: Why are we only now learning about her detainment? What can the W do to protect their players playing overseas?
  • The details are still unfolding, and we’ll be following closely.