On Saturday, it was the fourth wedding anniversary of WNBA star Brittney Griner and her wife, Cherelle. It was also her 121st day being wrongfully detained in Russia. As had been arranged through Brittney’s lawyers and U.S. embassy in Russia, Brittney Griner was to call the embassy, who would patch her call through to Cherelle, for what would be their first phone call in over four months. Cherelle went to bed at 5pm here in the states, in anticipation of waking up at midnight to account for the time difference. She waited. And waited. Brittney never called.
Originally, Cherelle Griner worried for her wife and wondered if Russian authorities had nixed or blocked the call. Today, she found out the reality was even more needlessly cruel. Brittney Griner called the embassy in Moscow — as promised — eleven times over several hours. Each time the call went unanswered. Due to a logistical error, no one was there to pick up.
Cherelle Griner told the Associated Press that a contact in the U.S. government apologized to her for the error. She also learned that the number Brittney Griner had been told to dial typically processes calls from prisoners on Mondays through Fridays, but not weekends. “But mind you,” Griner said in the interview, “this phone call had been scheduled for almost two weeks — with a weekend date.”
Because no one caught it, Griner spent her wedding anniversary in tears. “This was such a big moment because this would have been the first time where I truly could tell if she’s OK,” Cherelle Griner said. “This would have been the first time for me to actually just hear her in real time and to truly know if she’s OK or to know if she’s seconds away from not being in existence anymore.”
“I find it unacceptable and I have zero trust in our government right now. If I can’t trust you to catch a Saturday call outside of business hours, how can I trust you to actually be negotiating on my wife’s behalf to come home? Because that’s a much bigger ask than to catch a Saturday call.”
Of course, she’s absolutely right.
I am not expert on international relations, the war in Ukraine, hostages, Russia, or a million other topics relevant to Brittney Griner’s case. I know that for a very long time everyone involved was counseled that the smart and best strategy for Brittney Griner’s release was to play it quiet and not raise the profile of the WNBA superstar and twice gold medal Olympian, in hopes that if she did not seem valuable, she would have little use for Putin and might be released. It’s clear by now that the original strategy did not work.
In May, after being held in Russia since February due to vape cartridges containing cannabis oil supposedly found in her luggage, the State Department designated Brittney Griner as wrongfully detained, moving her case under the supervision of its Special Presidential Envoy for Hostage Affair — effectively the government’s top hostage negotiator. It was also in May when Cherelle Griner first reported that despite Brittney’s fame and service to this country (again, she’s a multiple-time decorated Olympian, largely believed to have been targeted specifically because of that exact fact) — she has never had as much as an obligatory “your country is with of you” phone call from the President.
Every time I try to write about this, I try to find words for watching as arguably the most famous Black lesbian athlete, not just of her time but period, spends what is now her 123rd day alone in a Russian cell while seemingly our nation just… allows it? That time ticks by and her name fades again and again from headlines. That WNBA players are wearing her face on their sweatshirts, playing on courts emblazoned with her jersey number, but last week when the NBA finished their league finals — with an indescribably larger audience and the biggest international stage BG was going to have for public pressure — they wore “We Are BG” shirts once to a Celtics practice (not a game, the practice) and spoke of her case during the pre-game, again, one time? When we know that one of the only reasons Brittney was playing in Russia was because pay discrepancy between the women’s and men’s leagues is so cataclysmic to begin with?? And yes, that in one hundred and twenty-three days, the President of the United States has not been able to find even two minutes to call the wife of an Olympian, so that she knows that she is not alone in her grief? And now the U.S. embassy, charged with looking out for her well being, couldn’t bother to correctly coordinate the most basic schedules? There are not words for that.
There’s only an emptying sick in the bottom of my stomach that will not go away.
I’d say it’s shameful, but that shame is not mine. I don’t need a reminder how little a Black lesbian’s life or love is worth, no matter how well she dribbles a ball.
What I do feel is enraged and helpless. Our senior editor, Heather, and I keep tag-teaming updates on Brittney Griner’s case because it feels like if we don’t do our part to keep her name in headlines and Google searches, who will? I don’t know if it’s making any difference, to be honest. But I know that Cherelle Griner should not feel alone. I know that Brittney doesn’t deserve to have to call eleven times (can you imagine what it took to be able to make eleven phone calls in her situation?) and not have someone on the other end of the phone!
So here I am, on Juneteenth, during Pride month, writing another small drop in the bucket post because the other choice is unbearable.
Bring BG Home.