Photo by Ben Hershey on Unsplash

The Brittney Griner Story Exposes America’s Race Problem to the World

The basketball star’s plight symbolizes the long history of U.S. imperialism and racism hand in hand.

Andrew Ricketts
5 min readAug 8, 2022

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Brittney Griner now occupies an unprecedented place in history. She’s one of the most accomplished athletes ever. And her imprisonment makes her a totem of America’s struggles with race, class, gender, and sexuality. Sadly, there’s no neat answer when it comes to the dilemma her country faces to free her from the enemy’s clutches.

Russia knows exactly how this will go.

They hold nearly all the leverage in this Cold War detention of an American celebrity. For one, they understand how inherently hypocritical the U.S. looks on the world stage, often preaching equality and civility while murdering its Black citizens with the full backing of the government. America is the type of nation to prop up a Black President, Secretary of State, Attorney General, Vice President, and simultaneously incarcerate Black people at 5 times the rate of their white counterparts.

Griner is at the crux of this paradox. She’s successful but invisible. She’s an exceptional representation of queer Black women in sports but has been arrested for domestic violence with her WNBA ex-wife, Glory Johnson. She is a decorous athlete who will surely go down as one of the best players in her sport, but she’s paid like a minor leaguer by any other measure. She’s also not the only American who’s run afoul of Russia’s strict drug laws: Maryland teacher Marc Fogel has been in jail for 11 months for entering Russia with medical marijuana he claims helped him to treat chronic pain. The tension between Russia and the U.S. predates Griner’s 1990 birthdate, and her unfortunate circumstance may deepen the chasm. The social conditions that cloud Griner’s future release are manifold and entangled.

For her to taste freedom within the decade, America as a whole will need to answer difficult questions that the nation has so far evaded.

What’s the role of celebrity in political conflict?

As brightly as Griner has shined in her basketball career—a defensive force, the engine of an undefeated college basketball…

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Andrew Ricketts

I’m a Caribbean and American writer from New York. My stories are about coming-of-age, learning how to relate, and family. It’s a living, breathing memoir.