Brittney Griner Sounds a Different Tune on the National Anthem After Stint in Russian Prison

WNBA basketball player Brittney Griner returned to the court for the first time since spending 10 months in a Russian prison after authorities at the Moscow airport discovered vape canisters with cannabis oil in her luggage.


She had been sentenced to nine years in the Russian penal system, but was freed in a December 2022 prisoner swap for international “Merchant of Death” arms dealer Viktor Bout, a deal that left many fuming. The agreement did not include freeing Marine Paul Whelan, who remains imprisoned on unsubstantiated spying charges in the former USSR, and Griner’s race and sexual preference were highlighted by many as a reason why Joe Biden’s administration agreed to the lopsided trade.

Even Russian TV announcers mocked the U.S. for the swap.

But Griner has returned, and apparently, she’s feeling a little differently about the Star Spangled Banner than she used to. Griner caused controversy in July of 2020 as the George Floyd protests were raging when she announced that she would not come out on the court during the national anthem for the entire season.

Griner, playing for the Phoenix Mercury, received loud cheers as she was introduced Friday in front of the home crowd. She stunned many when she stood for the Star Spangled Banner, and seems to have a newfound appreciation for the tune:

“Hearing the national anthem, it definitely hit different,” Griner said. “It’s like when you go for the Olympics, you’re sitting there, about to get gold put on your neck, the flags are going up, and the anthem is playing, it just hits different.”

“It means a lot.”

Actually, it meant a lot to many of us before you were imprisoned, Ms.Griner.


Mercury coach Vanessa Nygaard agreed that the moment was special:

We looked at each other, and we just had chills.

We were here last year for all of it. I’m getting emotional about it now. Just to see her back out there — it’s an absolute miracle. It was amazing. It’s giving me chills again.

While I appreciate Griner’s newfound affection for the song that honors our nation, it’s the fact that she felt the need—along with many other athletes—to turn her back on it in the first place that’s troublesome. I don’t pretend that we have a perfect history as a country, but those who continually bash it are doing our nation no favors. Instead of saying, “This is an amazing experiment, but let’s try to make it even better,” they say “America sucks and we should tear it all down.”

They have no idea what it means to live in a dictatorship where things truly do suck, where freedoms are non-existent, where upward mobility is but a pipe dream. Do you notice how Griner, Colin Kaepernick, and others who decry the American experience are still here? If it’s so terrible, couldn’t they find somewhere else to live that’s better?


America as a country has historically had flaws, some of them egregious. However, we also have a history of fixing those flaws, sometimes at great cost. There are few places on earth where Griner could live her life openly as a lesbian, make a fantastic living playing a game, and enjoy the freedom to say what she thinks and be who she wants to be.

Perhaps sitting staring at the cinderblock in a Russian gulag woke her up to the fact that—although America may not be perfect—it’s still one of the greatest attempts at societal governance in human history.

Maybe she could tell her friends.


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