Brittney Griner is free

She’s coming home.

She’s coming residence.
Picture: Getty Photographs

In the end, a deal has been struck to launch WNBA participant Brittney Griner from a Russian jail. She was sentenced to a draconian 9 years after a small quantity of hashish oil was present in a vape cartridge in her baggage.

However this wasn’t actually about Russia taking a stand towards leisure or medicinal cannabinoid use, Griner was a political pawn from the second she obtained pulled out of the airport safety line.

“This can be a day we’ve labored towards for a very long time,” President Biden mentioned, noting how these months have been hell on Griner. “We by no means stopped pushing for her launch. It took painstaking and intense negotiations, and I need to thank all of the hardworking public servants throughout my administration who labored tirelessly to safe her launch.”

What Griner had going for her was that the gamers within the WNBA had spent the final 5 years studying the best way to use their platforms and work by way of political channels. And so they had her again.

WNBA players worked hard to keep Griner’s name in the news. On day 293 of Griner’s imprisonment, aka Wednesday, Mystics player Elizabeth Williams told an audience of Seton Hall students that this was a conscious strategy. Every day a player tweeted, keeping the drumbeat up despite the monotony of inaction, to keep Griner’s humanity at the forefront. Williams said it’s easy to forget someone is a real person when they become a cause.

Today, Williams and the other players in the WNBA can celebrate that Griner is finally going to be coming home.

But some of the pain from this will linger. Williams said that, anecdotally, fewer WNBA players are heading back to the countries that pay them the most to play, China, Russia, and Turkey. China has been under COVID restriction anyway, but the illusion that they can travel freely to augment, if not double and triple, their WNBA salaries without risk has been dashed.

This is the second victory for WNBA players this week. Williams was also one of the first players to don a “Vote Warnock” T-shirt back in the 2020 Wubble for a televised game. She was a member of the Atlanta Dream and Kelley Loeffler, the woman who signed her checks, was also running for Senate. The WNBA players in the quarantined bubble had time to discuss Loeffler’s opposition to the Black Lives Matter movement, she even claimed it was out to destroy the nuclear family.

In what is now history, Williams and her colleagues interviewed Georgia candidates with the help of Stacey Abrams, and settled on a Reverend named Raphael Warnock, who on Tuesday won a full six-year term in the US Senate.

You can’t be a woman in professional team sports without supporting a cause, the cause that is a woman’s right to play sports. It’s not why little girls want to play sports, but because the culture we live in still treats women’s sports as lesser, women who play sports learn they have to advocate for themselves. It’s what makes supporting other causes seem less of a departure.

There were those who thought a player like Tom Brady or LeBron James would have been released more quickly, but ESPN reporter TJ Quinn doubted that on Wednesday during a panel discussion with Williams and Seton Hall Center for Sports Media founder Bob Ley. Quinn said LeBron would be higher profile than Griner, and thus a more valuable pawn. It might actually have been harder to get a player like that released.

(Full disclosure, I’m the Executive Director of the Seton Hall Centre for Sports Media.)

So to Griner. The WNBA players had already banded together to use their platform before, and to political success. They had the channels to the Biden Administration, and arguably helped Joe Biden take Georgia in 2020 by energizing Democratic voters in the state. Did that create more pressure for Griner’s release than for other detained citizens? Perhaps, but Griner wasn’t included in an earlier prisoner swap with Russia for Trevor Reed.

Reports had speculated that Griner and former Marine Paul Whelan might be exchanged for imprisoned arms dealer Victor Bout, but Griner’s deal was a one-to-one exchange.

“We never forgot about Brittney. We’ve not forgotten about Paul Whalen, who’s been unjustly detained in Russia for years,” Biden said in remarks at the White House as reported within the Washington Submit. “This was not a selection of which American to deliver residence. … Sadly, for completely illegitimate causes, Russia is treating Paul’s case in another way than Brittney.

When so many needed to make this an both or between Griner and Whelan, it isn’t. Though Russian chief Vladimir Putin should love that even in her launch, he has discovered a approach to stoke American division.

David Whelan launched an announcement on behalf of Paul Whelan’s household. “There isn’t a higher success than for a wrongful detainee to be freed & for them to go residence. The Biden Admin made the appropriate determination to deliver Ms. Griner residence and to make the deal that was attainable, quite than ready for one which wasn’t going to occur.”

“We’ll maintain negotiating in good religion for Paul’s launch,” Biden mentioned.

Welcome residence Brittney. There shall be loads of time to weigh the rational between her launch for a person who wrought a lot loss of life and destruction, and to advocate for the discharge of different detained prisoners. However on this second, let’s give the WNBA gamers and Griner’s household a second to rejoice.

She is residence.