Brittany Griner, Wnba, Cathy Engelbert discussed on The Lead

The Lead


This is an unimaginable situation for BG to be in. We know she's safe. But we want to get her home. That's WNBA commissioner Cathy engelbert talking about American basketball star Brittany griner a few weeks ago. Griner has now been in the custody of Russian authorities for more than two months. But after some big developments this week, including the release of another American prisoner, there's new reason to be hopeful. We hope that our story can offer them some hope and we also want to let them know that we're not going to stop fighting for their loved ones to be returned as well. Plus, with the WNBA season set to tip off this week, we look ahead at the teams and storylines to follow. From wondering, I'm Tiffany ashinsky. It's Wednesday, may 4th, and this is the lead. Co host Anders kelto, you're back in the report cherry again today. That's right, if the water is warm here, on the other side of the desk. So I figured I'd just stay in it for another week and do a little more reporting. But this time it's obviously on a much more serious topic. Right. Well, on that note, we're here today to talk about American basketball star Brittany griner, who, as we mentioned in the intro, has been in Russian custody for more than two months now. And there have been some big developments in her case that I want to get to. But first, can you just remind us how we got to this present moment? Yeah, so this all started back on March 5th. We are closely monitoring the situation of Brittany griner, the WNBA star who's been detained rather in Russia on drug charges. That's when we first learned through a press release from Russian state media that an American woman had been detained at a Russian airport, the state media also released security footage of that woman at a baggage checkpoint, and it was pretty clear that this was Brittany griner. You know, she's hard to mistake at 6 foot 9 and with dreadlocks. After scanning her bag, the officers noticed vapes and they say they found cartridges containing liquid hash oil or cannabis oil, which is a narcotic substance, and they go on to say a criminal case was initiated against this citizen. That same day her wife sherrell posted on Instagram essentially confirming that Britney was, in fact, still in Russia and asking for privacy. And it turns out griner had actually been detained about two weeks before that Russian press release came out. So by the time any of us learned what was happening with her, you know, she'd already been in Russian custody for quite a while. The press release claimed that she had cartridges of cannabis oil. What do we know about the potential punishment for something like that in Russia? Yeah, so Russia is known for having particularly harsh drug laws, one expert I spoke with said that the amount that she is alleged to have possessed is considered significant, which is sort of an in between category. Not the lowest, not the highest, but it can carry a sentence of 5 to ten years in prison in Russia. So yeah, if this case were to proceed within the Russian courts, it could potentially lead to a very serious sentence. And since the news about Britney grinder's detainment came out, what in your view has been the public reaction? What has the conversation around her been like? So from my perspective, the reaction has been this strange combination of people talking about her case and not talking about it. So for example, we saw some politicians come forward pretty quickly to champion her cause, including congresswoman Sheila Jackson Lee, who represents grinder's home city of Houston. At this time, to really stop harassing U.S. citizens for more importantly to release those that are there, please. Allow just wanted to safely leave Hillary Clinton tweeted free Britney at one point. We also heard from grinder's old high school basketball coach, a woman named Debbie Jackson, who spoke with a local news station about the situation and questioned the validity of the charges. Did Britney do this? Or is she a political pond? Was it planted? Because that just didn't make any sense to me at all. But we really weren't hearing anything from Brittany greiner's family from the WNBA or from the government early on. And honestly, we weren't hearing that much about her in the media either. I mean, her story was definitely getting coverage, but it wasn't the kind of coverage that you might expect for an athlete of her status, right? She's a two time Olympic gold medalist, a 7 time WNBA all star. And so a lot of the conversation early on shifted to, well, why aren't we talking about Brittany griner? Does it have to do with the fact that she's a woman or the fact that she's a black openly gay woman? And I mean, that's an understandable line of thinking, right? Just do the mental exercise here. What if LeBron James or Kevin Durant had been detained and was being held in a Russian detainment facility? It's hard to believe that wouldn't have turned into a media frenzy. But here's the thing. The lack of public attention is exactly what her family and those working on her behalf wanted early on. You know, there's a reason we first learned about her detainment from a Russian state media press release and not from her family. WNBA commissioner Cathy engelbert later confirmed that the strategy early on was to quote say less and push more privately behind the scenes. And the idea of keeping things as low profile as possible, that was because they felt more attention could actually hurt her cause or jeopardize her safety. Exactly. Her team was working to find a solution before her detainment became public. You know, maybe hoping the Russian government didn't yet realize who she was. But even if they did know who she was, more media attention, could complicate efforts to have her release, or at least that was the thinking, you know, if there was nonstop media coverage and people out in the streets demanding her release, that might make the Russian government feel like they have more leverage or political capital in negotiations, right? And going back to this idea of a relative media silence, I also know from conversations with some other journalists that some media outlets were following a no Britney grinder coverage approach. Out of respect to her and her safety. Yeah, I remember we had this exact discussion a few weeks ago in a staff meeting. Right, but as you know, if there's now been a shift in the approach of Brittany greiner's team, one sign of that happened about three weeks ago when the president of the WNBA players union went on Good Morning America to talk about Brittany grinder's detainment. Can you just give us a sense of the mood amongst your fellow WNBA players about the detainment? Sure no, thank you so much for having me and as you, as you mentioned, you know, it's tough. BG is us. We are BG, you know, that could have been us. This wasn't a plea to go in the streets and protests or anything like that. More used it as an opportunity to talk about how much WNBA players get paid and why they go to places like Russia to play basketball in the first place. But there was definitely a shift in her tone and her messaging. Given the nature of Britney situation, when it happened, it was very important for us to be intentional about doing the best thing to ensure that we don't compromise her coming home. And so a lot of that had to do with educating ourselves about the, you know, the details of what was going on as much as we could know. And around that same time, we also heard WNBA commissioner Cathy engelbert.

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