There was likely nothing in this country that was talked about more than Brittney Griner being imprisoned in Russia on drug charges.
The return of Brittney Griner to the United States in a dramatic prisoner swap finally ended a 10-month ordeal that captivated world attention. Griner had for years been known to fans of women’s basketball, but her celebrity got bigger in February when she was deatined at a Russian airport which made her by far the most high-profile American to be jailed abroad.
Her case brought major attention to not only her but also attention to the dozens of Americans wrongfully detained by foreign governments.
The Associated Press on Friday named the prisoner swap that freed Griner as the Sports Story of the Year. Her release also generated the release of convicted arms dealer Viktor Bout.
“I think her celebrity and the coinciding with the time of the invasion of Ukraine, those two points together is what made her case national news, international news, but also I think it made it feel much more fraught than a lot of the earlier cases of Americans being detained in Russia,” Kimberly St. Julian-Varnon, a Russian historian and doctoral student at the University of Pennsylvania, said in an interview days before Griner was freed.
Griner was sentenced to nine years in a maximum-security penal colony for women which was 200 miles outside Moscow. The intense weather made her make the decision to cut off her signature locks due to them freezing anytime she would wash them.
President Biden faced criticism then and now for not having a deal in place that would free imprisoned United States Marine Paul Whelan, who has been there since 2018. He is serving 16 years in Russian custody on espionage charges. It wasn’t for a lack of trying, because Russia would not add him to any deal because they classify him as something far worse then what Griner was, which is why she was only freed.
Griner has since left a military base outside San Antonio, Texas, and returned her with her wife.