Imprisoned WNBA star Brittney Griner has pleaded guilty in a Russian court to the drug charges that have made her a focal point of international media and humanitarian efforts over the last few months. “I’d like to plead guilty, your honor. But there was no intent. I didn’t want to break the law,” Griner said, per Reuters’ reporting. Griner also requested additional time to prepare herself for testimony, with the next court date slated for July 14.
Griner was arrested in a Moscow airport on February 17 after marijuana cartridges were found in her luggage. She’s been held by Russian authorities since, and the U.S. government has classified her as “wrongfully detained.” Griner, a WNBA champion and eight-time all-star, has played for Russian Premier League team UMMC Ekaterinburg during her offseasons since 2014, a common practice for even elite WNBA talent because many foreign leagues pay better than their American counterpart.
On July 6, a chilling letter that Griner wrote to President Joe Biden was released, in which she described her mental state. “[As] I sit here in a Russian prison, alone with my thoughts and without the protection of my wife, family, friends, Olympic jersey, or any accomplishments, I’m terrified I might be here forever,” she wrote. President Biden and Vice President Kamala Harris have spoken with Griner’s wife, Cherelle, after she publicly expressed dismay that the American leaders had not contacted their family yet.
Some speculation in the Griner case has centered around the idea of the U.S. and Russia exchanging prisoners, with convicted Russian arms dealer Viktor Bout being discussed as one possible trade option. CNN’s Abby Phillip tweeted that in order for a “potential prisoner swap” to take place, Griner “would have to be convicted and also admit fault.” However, if convicted, Griner faces up to 10 years in prison.
Russian officials have balked at the prospect of a prisoner swap, and criticized the U.S. for bringing significant attention to the case. Griner’s imprisonment has become a lightning rod in cultural discourse, as many have suggested the case would be receiving more attention if Griner were a male athlete and not a queer woman. Griner’s coach on the Phoenix Mercury, Vanessa Nygaard, has spoken out in support of her star player, while also criticizing the response from U.S. officials.
“If it was LeBron, he’d be home, right? It’s a statement about the value of women. It’s a statement about the value of a Black person,” Nygaard said. “It’s a statement about the value of a gay person. All of those things. We know it, and so that’s what hurts a little more.”