Here’s Why Brittney Griner Was in Russia Before Being Detained

Author: Mikelle Street

Today, news broke that Brittney Griner, a decorated basketball player, was detained by Russian authorities. Russian Federal Customs Service announced that they had detained an American basketball player who had won two Olympic gold medals. That player was later identified as Griner by a Russian news agency and the WNBA and the Phoenix Mercury, who Griner plays for, have confirmed that Griner is being detained.

Griner was reportedly detained at the Sheremetyevo airport near Moscow. Many suspect that this happened in early February. Griner’s last Instagram post is dated February 5.

Russian authorities say Griner was detained after a search of her luggage revealed hashish oil in vape cartridges. Hashish oil is an illegal substance in Russia and Griner is being investigated for “smuggling” drugs. She reportedly faces up to 10 years in a Russian prison. 

Griner traveled to Russia to play for UMMC Yekaterinburg, which she has been doing since 2016. The league is reportedly backed by a large corporation.

An ESPN feature from May of that year dug into Griner’s deal. UMMC Yekaterinburg provided each American player for its league with a personal driver in addition to other amenities. “The restaurants are good, the team pays well and takes care of every detail — chartering flights to away games, delivering bottled water to their apartments — the arena is always filled with locals, and the coaching staff” was comprised of many coaches Griner was familiar with from Phoenix Mercury.

Griner took the job to supplement her salary from the WNBA, which is something about half the league’s players do. For her first season, she was paid a little less than $1 million which was about four times the WNBA’s max annual salary. 

Of the seeming conflict with Griner, who is widely known to be lesbian, and Russia’s anti LGBTQ+ policies legislation, ESPN wrote “Russia’s hostile climate, which elsewhere in the country has resulted in arrests, seems a world away from Griner, who is here to play ball, not make a human rights stand. As long as she doesn’t run through Red Square waving a rainbow flag, nobody says a thing.”

Kate Fagan, who wrote the ESPN feature, expounded on Twitter after news of Griner’s detainment broke.

“The ‘just don’t make a scene about it’ policy for players re: LGBT rights in Russia was clear,” she wrote. “But there was also a sense that the team — in this case, UMMC, a mining [company] owned by a Russian billionaire — insulated players from the harsher realities of Russian life (and law.)

“Again this was 5+ years ago, and things have shifted dramatically, but my point is this: the experience of playing in Russia seemed to have a buffer, and I can’t help but imagine [Griner] is stunned at how quickly that evaporated,” Fagan continued. “Which leads me to: Where is UMMC in this?”


My name is David but my online nick almost everywhere is Altabear. I'm a web developer, graphic artist and outspoken human rights (and by extension, mens rights) advocate. Married to my gorgeous husband for 12 years, together for 25 and living with our partner of 4 years, in beautiful Edmonton, Canada.

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