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American sports world is growing restless over Brittney Griner

As Griner’s detainment persists, the sports world is raising the volume.

WNBA Finals - Game Two
Brittney Griner played in the WNBA Finals just nine months ago.
Photo by Christian Petersen/Getty Images

It’s been nearly 120 days since Brittney Griner has been detained inside of a Russian prison without speaking to her family or friends.

Enough is enough.

Earlier this week, we learned that a Russian court extended Griner’s pre-trial detention for another 18 days. Griner was arrested four months ago after Russian officials said they found vape cartridges containing hash oil in her luggage. Curiously, Russian officials didn’t publicly report her detainment for multiple weeks.

That was the first of many red flags surrounding Griner’s case.

Originally, there was muted reaction to Griner’s imprisonment among athletes, including her teammates with the Phoenix Mercury. Griner’s wife, Cherelle Griner, didn't speak publicly about her case until May 25.

Then she went on “Good Morning America,” and pleaded with the Biden Administration to bring Brittney home.

Early on, there was some thinking that turning Griner into a political symbol would harm her chances of a just resolution, Jeffrey Kahn, a law professor at Southern Methodist University, told me in March.

The fear was that public outcry over Griner’s detention would cause Putin to use her as negotiating leverage with the U.S. Russia has become a pariah state since invading Ukraine in late February, facing harsh economic sanctions.

But it seems as if Putin got to that point, anyway. Griner’s continued detainment indicates her arrest is illegitimate.

“Basically, we’ve acknowledged and we understand now that she is being held as basically a political prisoner,” Rep. Colin Allred said this week.

The WNBA started its public campaign around Griner on Opening Night, when every team unveiled “BG 42” logos on their own courts.

Commissioner Cathy Engelbert and the WNBA Players’ Association have released strongly worded statements about Griner’s detention as well.

After that, scores of WNBA players, many of whom identify as LGBTQ, shared statements supporting Griner on social media.

NBA players are also raising awareness about Griner’s dire situation. Members of the Boston Celtics wore “we are BG” shirts prior to Game 2 of the NBA Finals against the Golden State Warriors.

On Monday, officials from the State Department met with Griner’s teammates while they were in Washington for a game against the Mystics. The U.S. reclassified Griner as “wrongfully detained” in May, meaning the government will try to negotiate her release.

Griner is one of the most accomplished out LGBTQ athletes ever. She’s won a national championship, WNBA championship, two Olympic gold medals, and is a seven-time WNBA All-Star.

Notably, Griner publicly came out in 2013, right after she was selected No. 1 overall in the WNBA Draft. That makes her one of the rare pro athletes who came out at the start of their career.

Griner has always been unapologetically herself.

While the American sports world is growing increasingly restless with Griner’s detention, it’s worth wondering whether the severity of her situation is still being downplayed. Breanna Stewart, an out WNBA All-Star herself, recently challenged ESPN to cover the story more vigorously.

The lack of a daily media drumbeat is jarring, and as Stewart mentions, a sad commentary on the investment organizations make in women’s sports.

It’s apparent it will take great political will for Griner to be released. The sports world is raising the volume, and challenging everybody else to do the same.