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From Love to Lock-up, WNBA Star Brittney Griner's Story is Full of Unexpected Turns

From Love to Lock-up, WNBA Star Brittney Griner's Story is Full of Unexpected Turns

After WNBA star Brittney Griner — known as BG to fans — was sentenced to nine years in prison in Russia, the American population expressed both shock and disappointment at the treatment that was extended to the gay black Olympic athlete. The sentence was in addition to the six months that Griner spent in custody in Moscow on charges of smuggling drugs on February 17 this year. According to her defense, Griner, who was carrying 17 vape cartridges containing hashish oil in her luggage, was prescribed medicinal cannabis by physicians back in Arizona. Despite this, Griner, who pleaded to the court that she did not want to break the law, was handed a rigorous sentence. Many argue that Griner became a scapegoat following the US objection to Russia's military campaign in Ukraine.

Born Brittney Griner Yevette Griner on October 18, 1990, in Houston, Texas, Griner is one of the eleven women to receive an NCAA championship, an Olympic gold medal, a FIBA World Cup gold medal, and a WNBA championship. During college, she played basketball for the Baylor Lady Bears in Waco, Texas, and is the only NCAA player to score both 2,000 points and block 500 shots. In 2012, she received the Best Female Athlete ESPY Award and was named the Most Outstanding Player of the Final Four and AP Player of the Year. She was also named the nation's No. 1 high school women's basketball player by Rivals.com in 2009. At the Rio Olympics in 2016, she was on the US women's Olympic team and led them to victory. In 2021, Griner was again on the women's national team during the 2020 Olympics and won the second gold medal. 

In 2020, Brittney Griner said that she does not believe that the national anthem should be played at sporting events. She called for the WNBA to stop playing The Star-Spangled Banner, the national anthem of the United States before the games. Her remarks came after Mercury players, during a pre-season game in Bradenton, Florida, refused to take the floor. In her defense, Griner added that it was in protest against the killing of Breonna Taylor and as part of the wider George Floyd protests.  

Griner continues to flaunt her disregard for the traditional gender roles as she often models clothes branded as "menswear" for Nike. Her endorsement deal with Nike was the first that the company signed with an athlete who was openly gay.  

On February 11, 2013, Griner came out as gay in an interview with SI.com. Earlier, she had come out to her parents in high school, and her father did not take it gracefully. He forced her to live for six weeks with an assistant coach. Later on, to address bullying and self-acceptance, she wrote a memoir with Sue Hovey, In My Skin: My Life On and Off the Basketball Court, which was published in 2014.   

In 2014, Griner was engaged to another WNBA player Glory Johnson, but in 2015, they were both arrested on charges of assault after police responded to a fight between the two. WNBA suspended both Griner and Johnson for seven games following Griner pleading guilty to disorderly conduct. She was also asked to complete 26 weeks of domestic violence counseling. Despite the incident, the couple got together again and married the same year in Phoenix, Arizona. The couple lost it again when only after a month, Griner filed for an annulment citing fraud and duress. The divorce was finalized in 2016. Meanwhile, Johnson got pregnant with twins through in vitro fertilization using Griner's eggs. Brittney Griner got engaged again in 2018 to Cherelle Watson, and they married a year later. Watson also changed her name to Cherelle Griner. 

During her trial in the past six months, Cherelle has continued to support her wife from afar and often shared videos of Griner's time in court on social media. "Thank you to everyone who has reached out to me regarding my wife's safe return from Russia," Cherelle wrote on Instagram in March 2022. After the sentence, as Griner left the court, she told a CNN producer that she loved her family. Prior to the verdict, Griner had apologized to the court and asked for leniency. "I never meant to put in jeopardy the Russian population; I never meant to break any laws here. I made an honest mistake, and I hope that your ruling does not end my life here. I know everybody keeps talking about political pawns and politics, but I hope that is far from this courtroom.  

In an interview with CNN, Congressman John Garamendi assumed that it would be "very difficult" to get Griner out of Russia. Many high-ranking US officials and experts have expressed their concern that Griner is being used as a "high-profile hostage" by Russia and as leverage against western sanctions following the country’s invasion of Ukraine.

There are speculations that the United States may soon organize a prisoner exchange, where Griner and another American, Paul Whelan, would be returned in exchange for Russian arms trafficker Viktor Bout. Though the diplomatic relationship between the United States and Russia was stymied by the Ukraine war, it remains to be seen whether prayers and good wishes would work in Griner's favor, and she would return home after surviving yet another storm in life.

The Editorial Team

The Editorial Team

Hi there, we're the editorial team at WomELLE. We offer resources for business and career success, promote early education and development, and create a supportive environment for women. Our magazine, "WomLEAD," is here to help you thrive both professionally and personally.

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