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The WNBA season has begun while the league’s best player remains locked up in Russia.

Brittney Griner, the all-star center for the Phoenix Mercury, has been in Russian custody since February. She was arrested at Moscow’s Sheremetyevo airport after customs officers allegedly found cannabis oil in her luggage.

“It’s concerning on a lot of fronts,” said Florida Representative Michele Rayner, a civil rights attorney. “She’s a Black woman in Russia, we also know Russia has issues with Black folks. She’s a Black gay woman in Russia and we also know Russia has issues with homosexuality.”

Earlier this month, the State Department changed its classification of Griner’s case to “wrongfully detained,” signaling an attempt to negotiate her release instead of waiting for the Russian judicial system to play out. In a press release, the State Department said it, “will continue to undertake efforts to provide appropriate support to Ms. Griner.” 

Rayner said more people in the gay and Black communities need to speak up for Griner’s freedom. Had the detainee in this case been Tom Brady or LeBron James, both athletes would have been released by now, Rayner said. 

Rayner also raised the issue of why Griner went to play overseas in a Russian basketball league in the first place. 

“When we think about women’s sports and what we pay them … would it have even been necessary for her to travel to Russia to make sure she can do what she needs to do?” Rayner asked. 

Meanwhile, a BG 42 logo has been placed on the courts of all WNBA teams in honor of Griner, a seven-time all-star.


State Department Seeks Access to Detained Lesbian Basketball Star in Russia