U.S. – Russia prisoner swap sends WNBA star Brittney Griner home

The closely-followed international case dominated sports and news headlines for months

Aaron Rigby, Sports Editor

WNBA star Brittney Griner was officially freed from nearly 10 months of Russian detainment after the Biden Administration and Russia agreed upon a prisoner swap that would send a Russian prisoner back to Russia in return for Griner on December 8. 

During the WNBA off-season, Griner annually travels to Russia to play for UMMC Yekaterinburg, a professional basketball team in Russia. On February 17 of this year, Griner was detained at a Russian airport after police discovered vape cartridges containing hashish oil in her baggage. Hashish oil is a liquified form of weed, typically used as a vape. 

Griner was detained exactly a week before Russia launched their attack on Ukraine, which sparked conversations of Griner being used as a tool to get what Russia wants from America. 

Those speculations didn’t begin until early March, which is when Griner’s arrest became public knowledge, despite Griner being detained mid February. 

Griner’s trial didn’t begin until July 1, over four months after the detainment. In the second hearing of her trial on July 7, she pleaded guilty as she admitted to accidentally packing the cartridges, and stated that she had no intention of breaking any Russian laws. She didn’t testify until July 27. In court, Brittney claimed that she was unaware as to how the oil ended up in her luggage, but she did have a doctor’s recommendation for it. 

Griner was finally sentenced on August 4 to nine and a half years in Russian prison, charged with bringing hashish oil to Russia, which additionally came with a fine of one million rubles, equivalent to $16,500.

Ever since Griner was detained, the WNBA and multiple NBA players have made the effort to spread awareness about her situation, and encouraging action towards a higher power is something that neither are new to. 

Whether fans liked it or not, the entire country saw how impactful the voices of these pro athletes can be to the people who can force change and action upon society, and they once again didn’t fail or stop until they prevailed. 

On May 3, the WNBA announced that the initials and jersey number of Brittney Griner would be featured on the courts of all 12 WNBA teams during the entirety of the 2022 season. 

One of the biggest faces of the NBA, LeBron James, has been one of the vocal leaders of Griners’ freedom, constantly touching on the topic whenever he could on his show “The Shop” and often tweeting about the situation whenever news came out. 

All of the campaigning for her release paid off on December 8, when Griner was officially released from a Russian prison, as the United States and Russia agreed upon a prisoner swap deal that brought Griner home in return for an international arms dealer Viktor Bout. The swap occurred in the United Arab Emirates approximately one week after the agreement.