A Russian court on Tuesday rejected WNBA star Brittney Griner’s appeal of her 9-year sentence for possessing vape cartridges containing cannabis oil, meaning the 32-year-old American citizen will now be sent to serve out the rest of her sentence at a penal colony. Griner plays professional basketball in Russia during the WNBA offseason but was arrested in February of 2022 after Russian authorities found the contraband in her luggage at the Moscow airport.
The judge only took about 30 minutes to uphold the verdict “without changes.”
The Brittney Griner situation is a complete nightmare. With a denied appeal, she'll be moved to a Russian penal colonial and the possibility of her getting out anytime soon is bleak. Imagine.
If you can't feel some kind of empathy for her or her family, I just —
my heart hurts
— Lyndsey D'Arcangelo (@darcangel21) October 25, 2022
The US Charge d’Affaires in Moscow, Elizabeth Rood, attended the hearing and called the sentence “excessive and disproportionate.” The player’s lawyers indicated an appeal was possible.
Griner was allowed to speak by video in her defense:
Permitted to make a final statement to the court via video link from her detention center in the town of Novoye Grishino, just outside Moscow, Griner, dressed in a checkered red-and-black lumberjack shirt, begged for mercy.
“I was barely over the significant amount (of cannabis oil) … People with more severe crimes have gotten less than what I was given,” she said.
Griner apologized for what she said was an honest “mistake,” as she had at her first trial, saying, “I did not intend to do this,” and asking the court to take into account the fact that she had pleaded guilty.
The White House says it’s doing everything it can to get her out. According to CNBC:
“The president has demonstrated that he is willing to go to extraordinary lengths and make tough decisions to bring Americans home, as his administration has done successfully from countries around the world,” national security advisor Jake Sullivan wrote in a statement.
The Biden Administration has been in negotiations with the Russians since the beginning of Griner’s incarceration, but to no avail. Many blame Biden’s weak leadership:
I’m not trying to be political, but President Trump could get rapper ASAP Rocky out of legal detention in a foreign country, pardon rappers Kodak Black and Lil Wayne, but President Biden & the First Asian American Vice President can’t negotiate a deal to release Brittney Griner? pic.twitter.com/px8a1TF5yJ
— The Disruptor💥 (@IWashington) October 21, 2022
While some feel sorry for Griner, many others are gloating. There are a lot of hot takes like this one:
Brittney Griner is being transferred to a Russian penal colony, where she will spend the next 9 years after losing her appeal.
Thankful Brittney landed in a place where she won’t have to hear our terrible and oppressive National Anthem again for the foreseeable future. 🏀
— DB (@DB09215406) October 25, 2022
While I get the humor of sentiments like this and stand strongly against athletes kneeling for the anthem, this isn’t good. Yes, she committed a crime—on foreign soil, to boot!—which was stupid and she should pay a price. But she’s still a citizen of the United States of America.
The fact that feckless Joe Biden and all the “adults in the room” in his State Department can’t stop the Russians from throwing her in a presumably brutal penal colony for close to a decade is a sign that America’s stature has slipped. It’s clear that she’s Vladimir Putin’s political prisoner, and that this is in some measure Vlad’s payback for our support for Ukraine.
The good news for Griner is that being a political prisoner might actually just be a good thing because there’s a chance she could be freed in a prisoner swap someday. While I personally have found Griner’s actions distasteful in the past, I don’t take joy in the thought of her thrown away behind the walls of a cold, nasty gulag. It shows just how far the mighty have fallen.