Opinion: Brittney Griner’s return home should be celebrated


Credit: Bella Schreiber

WSPN’s Bella Schreiber discusses the controversy over Brittney Griner’s return home.

Bella Schreiber

After 294 days, WNBA center for the Phoenix Mercury, Brittney Griner finally returned home on Dec. 8, 2022. Can you imagine being imprisoned in another country for 294 days, completely unaware of how long you would be stuck there? I certainly can’t imagine the fear Griner must have felt.

“It feels so good to be home,” Griner said in an Instagram post. “The last 10 months have been a battle at every turn. I dug deep to keep my faith.”

On Dec. 16, Griner posted on Instagram with a photo of her reunion with her wife, Cherelle Griner, who was a prominent activist in the fight to bring her wife home.

Personally, I found comfort in knowing that after her extended stay in Russia, she was finally able to come home. Any person with a heart who cares for others should be thankful for Griner’s safe return and wishing her the best. So why wasn’t that the reaction upon her homecoming?

Because of a prisoner swap between her and Russian arms dealer Viktor Bout, Griner was released. Bout is considered dangerous, as he is a convicted arms smuggler who worked on an international scale for many years. He is infamously known as “The Merchant of Death.”

For many Americans, the Griner-Bout trade seemed unfair. Releasing someone like Bout, who could very easily continue to trade dangerous weapons upon his immediate return, is a great risk that some Americans were not prepared to make.

In addition to the prisoner swap, it is widely suspected that Griner’s release was only possible due to her celebrity status, as well as other high-profile figures advocating for her. While I’m glad to see United States President Joe Biden and the Biden Administration working to protect Americans who are wrongly imprisoned in Russia, it is also disappointing to know there are many other Americans still imprisoned who could be advocated for.

Paul Whelan is one of many Americans who were wrongly imprisoned in Russia. He is yet to be rescued. In December 2018, Whelan, a U.S. marine, was captured for “spying” in Russia. My own heart, along with many others, shatters for Whelan’s family. While the family is most likely happy to see some people getting the freedom they deserve, it must be devastating to know that Whelan could be home right now. It pains me to think that his imprisonment is due to the lack of public and celebrity pressure to return him.

Personally, I’m trying to recognize everyone’s feelings and understand each point of view. It’s possible to feel anger for Whelan and fear for Bout’s release, while also being able to recognize the huge progress the United States made by returning Griner home.

While many hateful thoughts and opinions are being directed towards Griner in response to her return, try to remember the pain she and her family have been through.

If I were Griner, I wouldn’t want to spend any extra time in a Russian prison cell, but what she wanted wasn’t acknowledged in this decision. If it were up to her, I’m positive that she would have at least taken Whelan with her, if not free all Americans who were wrongly imprisoned.

“It’s our turn to support them,” Griner said. “I hope you’ll join me in writing to Paul Whelan and continuing to advocate for other Americans to be rescued and returned to their families.”

As she resettles into her old life, remember this. She wants the freedom for other Americans just as much as the rest of us, if not more. While she doesn’t owe anyone anything right now, she is using her platform to advocate for others, pressuring her own supporters to advocate for Whelan and everyone else whose rights have been taken away by the Russian government.

It’s easy to forget that Griner is a real human being who has gone through a traumatic event. It will take time and patience for her  to return to her normal life and self, and it’s unfair for us to be putting her through the wringer immediately upon her return. I understand the urgency of other prisoners being returned, and I understand that you may not agree with the prison swap, but Griner is not in charge of negotiations, so give her time to heal.

If you want to help, advocate for the Americans who are yet to be rescued, but don’t use Griner as a scapegoat. It is possible to be both relieved at Griner’s safe return and to push Biden and the Biden Administration into liberating other imprisoned Americans.