As the United States and Russia continue talks for a possible prisoner swap, WNBA star Brittney Griner’s legal team has announced they are filing an appeal of her nine-year sentence.
According to ESPN, the Phoenix Mercury center’s lawyer, Maria Blagovolina, told Russian news agencies “the appeal was filed, but the grounds of the appeal were not immediately clear.” The move was expected, as Griner’s team announced its plans immediately after the verdict and had 10 days to file.
In the aftermath of the two-time Olympic gold medalist’s guilty verdict and subsequent sentence, her lawyers criticized the outcome, claiming “in similar cases defendants have received an average sentence of about five years, with about a third of them granted parole.”
The eight-time WNBA All-Star was originally detained Feb. 17, a week before Russia began its invasion of Ukraine. The timing has led many to see Griner as a political pawn between the U.S. and Russia. The State Department has classified the basketball star as wrongfully detained and openly condemned the verdict and sentence.
As her wife, teammates and supporters continue to put pressure on the Biden administration, the two governments are actively engaged in talks for a prisoner swap. Secretary of State Antony Blinken previously confirmed that the U.S. made a “substantial offer,” reportedly exchanging convicted arms dealer Viktor Bout, who is currently serving 25 years in federal prison, for the WNBA champion and Paul Whelan, a former Marine, detained since 2018 on alleged espionage charges.
Per CNN, on Sunday, the Russian Foreign Ministry’s Director of North American Department Alexander Darchiev confirmed to Russian state news agency TASS that Bout has been a part of ongoing talks for a deal.
“This quite sensitive issue of the swap of convicted Russian and US citizens is being discussed through the channels defined by our Presidents,” Darchiev told TASS. “These individuals are, indeed, being discussed. The Russian side has long been seeking the release of Viktor Bout. The details should be left to professionals, proceeding from the ‘do not harm’ principle.”
While the government has come under fire for offering to release someone nicknamed “the Merchant of Death” in exchange for a basketball star who has been convicted of what is essentially a drug misdemeanor, those critics need to recognize that this swap is for two detained Americans, and that Brittney is not your weird symbol of some broken system, she’s just a person who made a mistake.
As I’ve covered Brittney Griner’s detainment, one thing has once again become abundantly clear: people do not care about the struggles of Black women. The same people who were more than willing to advocate for former Marine Trevor Reed seem to show little to no compassion for someone who has also represented this country on the world stage. Because she’s a Black queer woman who has been critcal of the United States’ long history of racism, she somehow doesn’t deserve to be protected by the U.S. when she’s being used as a political pawn by Russia.
Excuse me, but I thought one of the differences between the two countries was that we’re allowed to call out our government and still receive the protections and privileges it provides.
If you’re one of these people who can’t see Brittney’s humanity and feel compassion for her situation, I have to ask, would you want your life to be over because of a relatively small mistake? Yes, she should’ve realized Russia’s legal standards are different from the United States. However, none of this should lead to nine years in a Russian prison camp. If you can’t see that, then you, not Brittney, are the problem.