August 4, 2022 

Brittney Griner sentenced to nine years in prison by the Russian court

Women's basketball community reacts to court's decision

Phoenix Mercury center and U.S. Olympic gold medalist Brittney Griner was found guilty of drug possession and smuggling by a Moscow-area court on Thursday. The global basketball superstar was sentenced to nine years in prison and fined one million rubles (about $16,700).

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Griner has been detained in a Russian prison since she was arrested in Moscow’s Sheremetyevo airport on Feb. 17 after officials found cannabis oil in her luggage. At the time, Griner was arriving in Russia to compete with the Russian club team UMMC Ekaterinburg. In May, the U.S. State Department ruled that Brittney Griner was being “wrongfully detained” by the Russian Federation.

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Griner pleaded guilty on July 7 and the case has worked its way through the Russian court system. After months of debate, on July 28, the Biden Administration offered to release Viktor Bout, a convicted Russian arms trafficker serving a 25-year sentence in the U.S., in exchange for the release of Griner and Paul Whelan, another American who is wrongfully detained in Russia.

After today’s sentencing, President Joe Biden expressed his frustration with the Russian court’s ruling.

“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,” Biden said in a statement.

“My administration will continue to work tirelessly and pursue every possible avenue to bring Brittney and Paul Whelan home safely as soon as possible,” Biden continued.

Because a guilty verdict has long been considered a foregone conclusion, Griner’s legal strategy involved an admission of guilt. An admission of guilt and subsequent sentencing was considered a requirement for any potential deal to get her home. The news doesn’t, therefore, come as a surprise to those close to Griner’s case. Griner’s attorneys plan to appeal the court’s decision and they have ten days to do so.

While being escorted out of the courtroom after the sentencing, Griner said: “I love my family.”

Reactions from the league and beyond

After the news of Griner’s sentencing, the NBA and WNBA released a joint statement.

“Today’s verdict and sentencing is unjustified and unfortunate, but not unexpected and Brittney Griner remains wrongly detained,” the leagues said. “The WNBA and NBA’s commitment to her safe return has not wavered and it is our hope that we are near the end of this process of finally bringing BG home to the United States.”

Below are other reactions to Griner’s sentencing from around the league and the women’s basketball landscape.

Written by Tee Baker

Tee has been a contributor to The Next since March Madness 2021 and is currently a contributing editor, BIG EAST beat reporter and curator of historical deep dives.

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