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GRINER IS AN AMERICAN FOOL — SO, DON’T LOOK FOR SYMPATHY HERE
When the WNBA star attempted to enter Russia with hashish oil, she left herself vulnerable as a political pawn, and after pleading guilty, she won’t be released from Putin's captivity anytime soon
Nope, Brittney Griner. Or nyet, as they say in Russia. One does not pack vape cartridges “inadvertently” in a travel bag. When filled with hashish oil — as the casings were when the WNBA star was detained on Feb. 17 at Moscow’s Sheremetyevo Airport — they serve a clear and incontrovertible purpose: getting high with a more powerful effect than marijuana.
I could seek a similar buzz while walking down a street in Los Angeles, and no one would stop me or even look at me. I live in a state that doesn’t criminalize cannabis. But if I placed weed oil in my luggage, boarded a plane to Russia and tried to sneak it past the scanners and detection dogs, I’d certainly know the consequences, especially at a time when the worst-kept secret in geopolitics was Vladimir Putin’s plan to invade Ukraine, an act that certainly would lead to U.S. intervention. And as the militsiya (or whatever they’re called now) dragged me off to a cell, where I’d rot away and never be heard from, I only could blame myself as an American idiot.
So when Griner stood before a Russian judge Thursday, handcuffed and wearing a red “Crenshaw” t-shirt and matching red sweats, and pleaded for mercy with a scripted statement — “I'd like to plead guilty, your honor. But there was no intent. I didn't want to break the law …” — I wasn’t compelled to defend her. I didn’t view it as my duty as her fellow countryperson to demand she be released immediately from a Khimki penal colony and returned to her homeland.
Sorry, Brittney Griner, there WAS intent.
She was traveling that winter’s day from the U.S. to Russia, where she’d spent several offseasons moonlighting for sizable wages with the UMMC Yekaterinburg women’s pro team. Seems the comfort of having the hash stash outweighed the peril of being caught at the border and locked away for months. Now that she has admitted guilt — she wasn’t a victim of some nefarious plant-in-bag act, as some of her supporters had suggested — I happen to think Griner deserves to suffer for her arrogance, her stupidity or a combination of both. She should have known, as a prominent U.S. athlete who’d lived in Russia long enough to understand the culture and laws, that Putin might make an example of her if drugs were found. How couldn’t she realize that her two U.S. Olympic gold medals would be figurative pieces of leverage in a prisoner swap game?
Does she deserve a 10-year jail sentence for large-scale transportation of drugs? Of course not — Griner wasn’t trying to smuggle kilos of heroin through the gates. Should she be detained beyond the current extension date of Dec. 21? Of course not. At the latest, she should be home by Labor Day, when the NBA — which owns half the WNBA; the other half is owned by the WNBA’s 12 teams — should figure out how to increase salaries so the league’s best players needn’t pursue additional wages in unfriendly countries. Still, Griner will have to be patient because, after all, she was the American idiot.
She’s squarely in Putin’s wheelhouse, where her guilty plea gives the Russian despot/crackpot even more negotiating power. He’s staring down President Joe Biden and wants the U.S. to release an arms dealer and terrorist sympathizer named Viktor Bout, aka “the Merchant of Death,” who is serving a 25-year prison sentence. It hardly seems a fair trade, Griner and her hash oil for a savage monster. But every time the U.S. State Department says Griner has been “wrongfully detained,” it irritates the Russian Federation, as Deputy Foreign Minister Sergei Ryabkov said Thursday.
“Attempts by the American side to make noise in public ... don't help the practical settlement of issues,” said Ryabkov, per the Associated Press, adding, that criticism of Russia “makes it difficult to engage in detailed discussion of any possible exchanges.”
Meaning, the politicos and Griner’s camp should tone down the rhetoric. Everything is being read and watched closely, including commentary from major U.S. media outlets that seems edited and approved by Biden — so he won’t have to say it himself. Griner’s detainment has nothing to do with her profile as a gay, Black woman. She is simply an American piece of meat, regardless of gender and race and sexuality, regardless of her tattoos and dreadlocks. It didn’t stop Vanessa Nygaard, Griner’s coach when the 6-9 center is in uniform for the Phoenix Mercury, to offer that tortured opinion in a take that somehow invoked LeBron James.
“If it was LeBron, he’d be home, right? It’s a statement about the value of women, it’s a statement about the value of a Black person, it’s a statement about the value of a gay person — all those things,” Nygaard said. “We know it, and so that’s what hurts a little more.”
“If it were LeBron James or Tom Brady, this would be news that would be in the headlines every day,” Mercury guard Sophie Cunningham said. “With B.G., it is, and it’s not, it is, and it’s not, it needs to be a consistent message out there until she’s home.”
First, James would not be foolish enough to smuggle cannabis oil in a Moscow-bound jet. And Brady’s body, knowing his obsessive nutritional routine, probably would disintegrate on contact with a vape pipe. Actually, if Bad Vlad had LeBron or Brady in custody, the ordeal might last years.
A better strategy to win her eventual release, after 140 days, is to shut up or genuflect to the Kremlin. Was Griner showing deference by wearing all red in the courtroom — the traditional symbol of Communism, dating back to the Bolsheviks? Um, probably not.
In a fair and just world, none of this would be happening. The Russians would see Griner’s crime for what it is in our country — 0.7 grams of weed oil, a misdemeanor in certain states — and they’d have fined her months ago and let her carry on with UMMC Yekaterinburg. Instead, Putin smells more blood. Said Ryabkov, speaking for his superior: “The persistence with which the U.S. administration ... describes those who were handed prison sentences for serious criminal articles and those who are awaiting the end of investigation and court verdicts as ‘wrongfully detained’ reflects Washington's refusal to have a sober view of the outside world.”
His choice of words is curious, if not intentional.
The Russians don’t think we’re sober about life in America. Brittney Griner’s vape cartridges don’t help our cause.
Jay Mariotti, called “without question the most impacting Chicago sportswriter of the past quarter-century,’’ writes general sports columns for Substack while appearing on some of the 1,678,498 podcasts and shows in production today. He is an accomplished columnist, TV panelist and talk/podcast host. Living in Los Angeles, he gravitated by osmosis to film projects.