Willie R. Tubbs, FISM News
In happier times, Brittney Griner would have been a shoo-in to participate in the WNBA All-Star game. On Sunday, however, as Griner’s fellow top players participated in the 2022 edition of the contest, she remained in a Russian jail hopeful that one of the men who secured the release of a U.S. marine could also negotiate her freedom.
Bill Richardson – the former governor of New Mexico and ambassador who now heads an international engagement organization that bears his name – will venture to Russia soon to ascertain the Kremlin’s terms for Griner’s release, if such terms are to be had according to an ABC News report. Though Richardson is a Democrat and longtime supporter of President Joe Biden, he will not represent the White House in his trip.
“We asked the Richardson Center to help and I’m encouraged that he might be going,” Cherelle Griner told ABC.
The Richardson Center played a pivotal role in the negotiations that led to the release of U.S. Marine Trevor Reed, who’d been held in Russia for three years on trumped-up charges and an exorbitant prison sentence. That release was secured when the Biden administration agreed to exchange a Russian pilot who’d been convicted of attempting to smuggle cocaine into the United States for Reed.
As Richardson operates independently of the U.S. government and has developed quite the network of international contacts, he was able to act as an intermediary as he sought to establish for each party what the other desired.
It worked for Reed, and the hope now is that Richardson can pull another diplomatic rabbit out of his hat for Griner, or at a minimum discover what it is Putin and his surrogates want from the clearly orchestrated kangaroo-court proceedings to which Griner has been subjected. However, things are more complicated for Griner than Reed.
As a celebrity athlete with an international following, Griner serves as a far more valuable tool in the Kremlin’s public relations kit. The brutal truth might be that she is more valuable to Russian President Vladimir Putin as a long-term prisoner than as the subject of a one-time negotiated exchange.
Griner has already pleaded guilty to the charge of attempting to smuggle hashish oil into Russia, but experts have warned American onlookers that the trial is far from over and could be drawn out weeks or months before she receives a sentence, which could be as many as 10 years.
To date, the efforts of Griner and her family to gain the support of Biden have yielded assurances and little else, at least in the public eye.
“I miss my wife! I miss my family! I miss my teammates!” Griner pleaded to Biden last week in a handwritten letter. “It kills me to know they are suffering so much right now. I am grateful for whatever you can do at this moment to get me home.”
On Sunday, the entirety of the WNBA showed their support for Griner. During half-time of the All-Star Game in Chicago, every WNBA player at the game changed into a jersey that bore Griner’s last name and number, 42. Griner was also named an honorary starter.
— ESPN (@espn) July 10, 2022
“We just wanted to make sure at some point that we were able to – on national television, obviously in front of a sold-out crowd – put Brittney’s name in the forefront,” Sue Bird, a legendary figure in WNBA circles who has twice been Griner’s teammate on Team USA, said to ESPN. “Hopefully, at some point, she sees a picture or something, letting her know that she is always on our minds and in our hearts.”
“It’s also a way to have other people see her name. Maybe someone turned on the TV and doesn’t know about the story and is like, ‘Oh why are they all wearing the same jersey number?’ In those moments it brings awareness, and it constantly reminds the Biden administration that we are supporting them and whatever they need to do to get Brittney home.”
WNBA Commissioner Cathy Engelbert has referred to Griner as a “huge priority” for the league.
Griner is one of several Americans being held in Russia. Paul Whelan, who has been in custody for three years, was convicted of engaging in espionage and is serving a 16-year sentence of hard labor.