This article appeared in the December 08, 2022 edition of the Monitor Daily.

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Brittney Griner and the struggle to maintain hope

The White House/Reuters
President Joe Biden hugs Cherelle Griner in the Oval Office after the release of her wife, WNBA star Brittney Griner, by Russia as U.S. Secretary of State Antony Blinken looks on at the White House in Washington, Dec. 8, 2022.

In the end, hope was the hardest thing to hold on to. 

Basketball superstar Brittney Griner was detained by Russia nearly 10 months ago. The sentence for the discovery of hashish oil on her vaping pipes was nine years at a prison that, according to a 2017 Russian report, engaged in torture and slave labor. 

By October, her wife, Cherelle Griner, told “CBS This Morning,” “She’s very afraid about being left and forgotten in Russia.” In November, she told “The View” that her wife confessed to her: “I’m really just trying to hold on to the last little bit of you I can remember.”

Today, Brittney Griner is heading home. She was part of a prisoner exchange, with the U.S. freeing Viktor Bout, an arms dealer convicted of conspiring to kill American officials.

In such fraught negotiations, it can be hard – even counterproductive – for a government to be open. The Biden administration repeatedly said freeing Ms. Griner was a top priority, yet questions lingered. What if she were a male sports star? Was there prejudice because she is a member of the LGBTQ community?

But people did remember. Her number was on the court at every Women’s National Basketball Association game. At the Golden State Warriors’ championship ring ceremony in October, Stephen Curry said, “Brittney Griner’s birthday is today. ... We want to continue to let her name be known.” Cherelle Griner worked tirelessly to keep her wife’s name in the spotlight. 

Now that spotlight turns to Paul Whelan, another American authorities say is falsely imprisoned in Russia. “We are not giving up. We will never give up,” President Joe Biden said. The challenge is more difficult, with Russia classifying his case differently. Yet in some ways it is the same.

The struggle, day by day, is not to lose hope.  

This article appeared in the December 08, 2022 edition of the Monitor Daily.

Read 12/08 edition
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