WNBA champion and NCAA champion Brittney Griner has been held in a Russian jail since Feb. 17. The two-time Olympic gold medalist was jailed after cannabis oil was found in her luggage upon her arrival at a Moscow airport en route to join her team, UMMC Ekaterinburg. She plays in Russia during the WNBA off-season.
In July, Griner pleaded guilty to carrying cannabis oil in her luggage, noting there was no intent to break Russian law. She said she had rushed in packing, accidentally placing the vape cartridges in her bag.
A collective of nearly 1,200 intergenerational, intersectional Black women leaders across the U.S. sent a letter to President Joe Biden and Vice President Kamala Harris asking them to ramp up efforts to free Griner from detainment. More than a dozen of the signers are women either in academia or involved with research on issues impacting women of color. Diverse: Issues in Higher Education reached out to inquire how they viewed Griner’s story and how they think it will be part of Black history going forward.
“Brittney Griner was so vocal on social media and in her behaviors on the court and how she showed up as a player, as a celebrity, and in her personal life when it came to matters around social justice and social injustice,” said Dr. Leatra Tate, a professor at Erie County Community College of PA and a Black feminist scholar. “From a domestic policy standpoint here in the U.S., we’re perceiving the inaction of our presidential administration in comparison to that. When you think about how this plays out in scholarly discourse, how are we ignoring what this person stood for and how are we seeing such inaction?”
Dr. LaNail R. Plummer, a psychologist and CEO and founder of Onyx Therapy Group, said she would like to see an influx of both scholarly and mass media pieces that address the implications of multiple identities.
“With Ms. Griner, we see so many relatable elements of ourselves — either in our race, gender, work expectations and the way we cope with these identities and implied stressors,” said Plummer. “We see the vulnerability of wondering if someone will see us, worry about us, come for us. We see the shock of things becoming worse than we ever imagined because we didn’t get the grace that’s been given to so many that came before us but that do not look like us.
“The scary thing is while Ms. Griner is suffering in a Russian prison, so many are suffering with her with the realization that it can be us at any time, and we probably won’t have the access and resources to even help ourselves,” she continued.
Dr. Akilah Cadet, founder/CEO of Change Cadet, has a doctorate in health sciences in leadership and organizational behavior and more than 15 years of experience in management and building successful projects. Having studied teamwork and issues of anti-racism, she said this letter is evidence of Black women standing in their power.
“We can us our voices even when we’re being silenced,” said Cadet. “We can overcome our different points of intersectionality to still show up for one another.”
Cadet sees Griner as the victim of political maneuvering, noting that a man likely would not have faced a similar situation. “Being a man has value in any country because they’re viewed as a source of power,” said Cadet. “If it were a white man, the storyline would have … been amplified much sooner.”
Plummer said she hopes that when Griner is released people will allow her to rest before requesting interviews and public appearances. Researchers can document and learn from her recovery in terms of overcoming trauma.
“She will need nature and the universe to purify her, restore her sense of knowing and being, realign her with herself through her sensory intake and slow her brain to restore itself through neuroplastic interventions and activities,” said Plummer.
Tate noted that from a queer theory angle, seeing the visibility of Griner’s wife, Cherelle, showing up and being vocal, will be widely discussed.
“It’s going to be a moment that really highlights and underscores how much work there is still left to do in regard to ensuring equal protections and support for our athletes regardless of their social identity,” said Tate.
“Brittney Griner has also received throughout this ordeal a lot of very visible love, care, and support," said Tate. "It shows there’s this undercurrent of people who are willing to stand up and support BIPOC women where our country fails to, and we’re not going to be silenced or stopped, particularly when it comes to this Black women’s collective. We will show up and nothing is more Black feminist and nothing is more evident in Black history than showing up and being there when these moments happen."