Brittney Griner: Basketball Player, Vaper, Political Prisoner - The American Spectator | USA News and Politics
Brittney Griner: Basketball Player, Vaper, Political Prisoner
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Brittney Griner playing for Ekaterinburg’s Nadezhda team in 2019 (Nadezhda/Creative Commons)

The case of WNBA basketball star Brittney Griner continues to escalate. It is rapidly becoming a big deal in U.S.-Russian relations. On Thursday, a Russian judge convicted Griner of drug possession and smuggling and sentenced her to nine years in prison. Griner listened to the verdict almost expressionless, expecting as much, and was calmly led back to her defendant’s cage — literally a cage.

The 31-year-old Griner illegally brought drugs into Russia. Specifically, back in February she brought into the country vape cartridges with cannabis oil when she flew to Moscow to play basketball in the city of Yekaterinburg — the city where the Bolsheviks detained and executed the Romanovs in July 1918.

Griner pled guilty to the possession charge. Russian authorities quickly threw her into the slammer. Her six months in the hoosegow thus far will count as time served on her nine-year sentence.

The United States is protesting her arrest and confinement. Both President Joe Biden and Secretary of State Antony Blinken have made public statements, with Biden asserting: “Today, American citizen Brittney Griner received a prison sentence that is one more reminder of what the world already knew: Russia is wrongfully detaining Brittney. It’s unacceptable, and I call on Russia to release her immediately so she can be with her wife, loved ones, friends, and teammates.”

But that is just the start of it. There is much more going on behind the scenes. It seems clear that Vladimir Putin and his teammates have a crafty game plan to check both the WNBA star and the United States of America.

In fact, Biden’s words signaled just that. Very lawyerly, he used the words “wrongfully detained.” That gets to the international legal issue of “wrongful detention.”

Hugh Dugan, who served as special presidential envoy for hostage affairs under the Trump administration, explains: “To continue to assert wrongful detention would require the White House to demonstrate how her nationality came to play in the outcome of this case and whether there are other pressures being placed on the White House by Russia and in conjunction with foreign policy matters.” That would include whether “there was an effort to secure other national interests by Russia through this situation.”

Such as? Russia no doubt has in mind a prisoner swap. The name being talked about is Viktor Bout, a notorious Russian arms dealer known as the “Merchant of Death,” who is serving a 25-year sentence here in the United States for conspiracy to kill U.S. citizens and aiding terrorists.

Putin and the boys are playing hardball, potentially using Brittney and her vape pipes to spring Bout and his weapons. For Putin and the Russkies, this could be a slam dunk.

Griner is unlikely to generate sympathy from conservatives here at home. Go to the reader comments of any news report on Griner at a conservative website and you’ll see her dismissed as a druggie who hates America, protests the national anthem, and idiotically brought dope into Russia. Had she done this in Saudi Arabia or Singapore or Thailand, they’d lock her up and throw away the key.

She’ll certainly get not a drip of empathy from the disturbed brand of American Putinists. They’re happy to keep her in the steel cage the Russkies have locked her in.

Conversely, liberals ought to be marching in the streets for Griner. In addition to her dislike of America and its patriotic anthem, she is a woman married to a woman. She ought to be a cause célèbre for the American left. Why isn’t she?

The left, and especially liberals in the media, aren’t making a big stink about Griner’s mistreatment because doing so would expose their president for his further incompetence in foreign policy, and especially his dismal dealings with Vlad and the Kremlin. This is the latest in a growing list of foreign policy embarrassments if not outright debacles for President Joe Biden. It comes, eerily, exactly one year after his disastrous pullout in Afghanistan that returned the country to the Taliban and created anew another safe haven for Islamists to organize against America.

The last thing that liberal journalists desire is another foreign policy loss for their Democrat president, especially with a potential “red wave” Republican victory approaching in November.

If anyone doubts me on this, do a little mental experiment in your noggin by turning these tables: imagine if Donald Trump were president right now with the Griner episode unfolding. Every liberal with a Ukraine flag would be posting “Save Brittney” stickers on their electric car and laptop. Every day that Donald Trump failed to secure the release of dear Brittney would be propagandized as another swipe at Black Lives Matter and the LGBTQ community. No doubt, liberals would insist, Trump was failing to get Brittney released because he hates black people and gay people.

Besides, they would insist, Trump had already plotted with Putin to defeat Hillary in 2016. Now, Orange Man Bad and Mad Dog Putin were conspiring again, this time against the WNBA. Those two authoritarians hate basketball as much as they hate “democracy” — or at least women’s basketball.

All of which prompts another interesting consideration to roll around your noggin, namely: What if Donald Trump were president right now? Would Griner’s situation have gotten this bad?

As I’ve noted here in the past — and as very much a non-apologist for Donald Trump — it really is remarkable that bad boy Vlad behaved himself throughout the entirety of the Trump presidency. Mad Dog Putin took a bite out of Crimea in 2014 when Obama was president and Joe was his veep. He was comparatively puppy-like during the Trump years. But once Biden was elected, and showed himself to be dreadfully incompetent in Afghanistan, Putin unleashed himself on Ukraine — this time the entirety of Ukraine, up and down and side to side, including Kyiv.

Putin didn’t do that under Trump. Would Mad Dog be tossing Brittney into one of his cages if the Donald were at 1600 Pennsylvania Avenue? Would a President Trump be having an easier time getting Brittney home than Biden and Blinken?

At the very least, I reiterate my point on the media hypocrisy on this matter: If Trump were president right now, the liberal media would be screaming about the Griner case and exploiting it against Trump.

In fact, Griner would likewise be bellyaching against Trump. Or then again, maybe she wouldn’t, not right now. Right now, she would be looking to Trump with mercy to save her. Just as she now looks to America to save her — the country whose flag she protests.

“I honestly feel we should not play the national anthem during our season,” said Griner in July 2020. “I think we should take that much of a stand.”

That’s a stand she took. Now she looks to the country she protests to save her from a country that lacks our freedoms.

America doesn’t seem all that bad right now — eh, Brittney? I bet Griner would be happy to wrap herself in the American flag right now.

And is it not curious that the likes of Brittney Griner, as well as LeBron James, are happy to play ball with nations like Russia and China while they protest America? Brittney not only can’t do bong hits in Russia but couldn’t marry her wife there. But she and LeBron and others sell out for cold cash in Russia and China. What rapacious capitalists!

Their hypocrisy is really quite striking.

Either way, for now, an American citizen is locked up in Russia for a nine-year confinement. You may or may not like her. But regrettably for her and her native country, she is likely going to become a political pawn — if not political prisoner — whose plight will further strain U.S.-Russian relations in an already difficult time. Her decision to bring a hash pipe into Russia was dumb enough, and doubly so if it leads to Biden and Blinken releasing the Russian “Merchant of Death” in exchange for a U.S. citizen smoking weed in Yekaterinburg. If Brittney’s stupidity ends up springing that dude, well, then she owes her country a big fat apology.

In the meantime, this is escalating into something serious among two powerful nations.

Image: This file is licensed under the Creative Commons Attribution-Share Alike 4.0 International license.
Paul Kengor
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Paul Kengor is professor of political science at Grove City College in Grove City, Pa., and senior academic fellow at the Center for Vision & Values. Dr. Kengor is author of over a dozen books, including A Pope and a President: John Paul II, Ronald Reagan, and the Extraordinary Untold Story of the 20th Century, The Politically Incorrect Guide to Communism, and Dupes: How America’s Adversaries Have Manipulated Progressives for a Century.
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