Brittney Griner Trial: WNBA Star Sentenced to 9 Years for Drug Possession, Smuggling

<p>Russia jail charge for WNBA superstar.</p>

Russia jail charge for WNBA superstar.

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Alex MonahanAugust 5, 2022, 08:35 PM

Brittney Griner is hot news. She’s a WNBA superstar and a role model to many young athletes in the United States. Griner, 31, is also a two-time Olympic Gold medalist.

On Thursday, Griner was handed a nine-year prison sentence on convictions of smuggling and drug possession. Griner was also fined roughly $16,000. She was detained by Russian officials and ultimately arrested in Feb. 2022 after marijuana vape cartridges were found in her luggage on the way back to Russia.

Griner’s trial began on July 1. Her defense argued that she was using cannabis oil to treat pain. However, at the courtroom in Khimki, Russia, Russian prosecutors argued that cannabis was illegal, and she was sentenced on Thursday, Aug. 4.

Griner issued an apology at the courtroom after sentencing. 

United States’ Brittney Griner (15) plays during a women’s basketball preliminary round game against Japan at the 2020 Summer Olympics. – AP Photos

Griner was on her way to Russia to return to UMMC Ekaterinburg, her basketball team. Griner played for this Russian club during her WNBA offseasons and won back-to-back championships. 

Many wonder why Griner played in Russia to begin with. It’s pretty simple: money. Griner is paid less than $250,000 per season in the WNBA. However, in Russia, Griner earns over $1 million per season with UMMC Ekaterinburg.

Griner is a WNBA player for the Phoenix Mercury. She was born in Houston, Texas and played college basketball for Baylor. She had an insane college basketball career, posting 2,000+ points and 500+ blocks.

In 2013, the Phoenix Mercury selected Griner with the No. 1 overall pick. She was a quick learner and was selected to be a WNBA All-Star in just her first season. However, she, unfortunately, missed the 2013 All-Star Game due to injury.

After her rookie season, Griner continued to dominate the WNBA. She averaged 4.04 blocks per game in the 2015 season, a WNBA record. In 2014, Griner also set another record with 11 blocks in one game. Pretty incredible.

Griner re-signed with the Mercury in 2017 and had an epic season. She had a leg injury during the season, but she led the WNBA averaging 21.9 points per game. She also led the WNBA in blocks per game for the fifth straight year.

Over the course of her career, Griner has averaged 17.7 points per game and 2.8 blocks. Griner has also averaged 1.8 assists per game and 7.6 rebounds. She has shot 80.4% from the free throw line and 56% from the field. She also has a 35.3% three-point percentage.

She’s truly a legend in the WNBA and an inspiration to young people around the world, especially after publically coming out as a lesbian in 2016.

Griner also led the United States to victory in the 2016 Olympics in Rio. She won her second Olympic gold medal in the 2020 Olympics in Tokyo, Japan.

Griner is an amazing athlete. There’s no question about that. But she’s also had her personal struggles.

Griner got engaged to another professional basketball player, Glory Johnson, in 2014. They were both arrested in 2015 after a fight in Arizona. After this incident, Griner had to complete a course on domestic violence.

However, the 2022 arrest in Russia put a dent in her life, as well as her career as a basketball player. Griner was prescribed medicinal cannabis in Arizona, where marijuana (both recreational and medicinal) is legal.

The United States government quickly reacted. Many U.S. officials claimed that Brittney was being held hostage due to Western Sanctions following the Russian invasion of Ukraine. Many U.S. politicians have already called for the release of Brittney Griner, including President Joe Biden.

In March, a representative for the United States visited Griner in detention. She was supposedly in good condition, although wrongfully detained, according to the U.S. State Department. On May 15, 2022, reports came out stating that the U.S. would consider a “prisoner swap” with Russia for arms dealer Viktor Bout.

Griner’s trial began on July 1. The WNBA superstar pleaded guilty, but she claimed that she never intended to break Russian law. Joe Biden gave approval for a prisoner swap involving Griner on July 27.

The Biden administration is still pushing for the return of Griner. Many suspect that the “swap” between Russia and the United States could still be for Viktor Bout, a Russian arms dealer. Representatives from Russia made it clear that they would not allow any trade to happen until conviction, so it’s still an imperative time for Griner.

Biden has stated that “Russia is wrongfully detaining Brittney” and begged for her immediate release from custody. He has also said that the administration will continue to push for the release of Brittney Griner in the coming months.

Griner was caught with less than a gram of cannabis for medicinal use. This has become a political issue in the United States. Many conservative representatives have stated that Brittney Griner deserved the sentencing, and they want no sympathy for the WNBA superstar.

Vanessa Nygaard, head coach of the Phoenix Mercury, stated their team is unsurprisingly frustrated and angry. According to star guard Skylar Diggins-Smith, nobody wanted to play on Thursday. Fans chanted “bring her home” through the last Mercury game. WNBA fans across the world continue to voice support for the release of Brittney Griner. 

Many basketball players compete overseas in Russia during the WNBA offseason. Some, such as Jonquel Jones, have expressed shock that cannabidiol oil is illegal. A variety of WNBA players claim to have brought this substance into Russia.

Griner begged Russian officials on Thursday to not “end her life.” She claimed that bringing the hashish oil into Russia was an honest mistake. Greiner asked for leniency in her sentencing. The Russian prosecutors argued that Greiner packed illegal drugs intentionally, but she denies this in full.

It’s not over, though. Many Americans are disappointed by the decision, but conversations will continue. The White House has made it clear that they’ll continue to push for the safe return of WNBA All-Star Brittney Griner. They continue to urge Russian officials to accept the proposal and “swap.”

All that’s known is Brittney Griner’s future is uncertain. If the United States & Russia are able to reach a deal, then Griner may be home in no time and once again playing in the WNBA. However, if terms cannot be agreed to, then Griner is set to face nine years in a Russian jail.

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