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WNBA Star Brittney Griner Freed, Swapped for Russian High Profile Arms Dealer

WNBA Star Brittney Griner Freed, Swapped for Russian High Profile Arms Dealer

(Photo courtesy of Keeton Gale / Shutterstock)

Social media feeds and the daily news cycle erupted on Thursday morning as news broke that U.S. basketball star Brittney Griner had been freed after months of being held in jail by Russian authorities.

But the move also drew the quick ire of many politicians and even a pro athlete or two after the Biden Administration completed the move with a prisoner swap of a notorious Russian arms dealer, all while leaving a former U.S. Marine languishing in a Russian jail cell after a 2018 conviction there on espionage charges.

The Associated Press and others reported the breaking news of Griner’s release early in the day on Dec. 8, 2022: "Russia freed WNBA star Brittney Griner on Thursday in a high-profile prisoner exchange, as the U.S. released notorious Russian arms dealer Viktor Bout but failed to win freedom for another American, Paul Whelan, who has been jailed for nearly four years.”

After the news broke, Biden issued remarks from the White House, accompanied by Griner’s wife Cherelle and administration officials including Vice President Kamala Harris.

“Moments ago I spoke to Brittney Griner. She is safe. She is on a plane. She is on her way home.,” said Biden’s Twitter account.

Griner was one of the most high-profile U.S. citizens to be detained by foreign authorities in recent years. The former Houston Nimitz High School basketball player has risen to the top of the women’s basketball game, achieving legendary status in the sport. Griner’s career resume includes the 2012 NCAA Women's National Championship with Baylor University, where Griner was a three-time All-American, the AP Player of the Year, and the Most Outstanding Player of the Final Four. She is also reportedly the only NCAA basketball player to ever score 2,000 points and block 500 shots.

A professional basketball star holding a WNBA championship and numerous awards for her play with the Phoenix Mercury, Griner is also a two-time gold medal winning Olympian for the U.S. women's basketball team. While she was widely criticized for her U.S. National Anthem protest during the 2020 Olympic games in Tokyo, she was on the gold medal winning team that year, reportedly becoming one of 11 women to win an Olympic gold medal, an NCAA championship, a World Cup gold medal, and a WNBA championship during the course of a career.

Griner’s release on Thursday, Dec. 7 from a Russian prison came after months of tense negotiations between Russia and U.S. authorities following the basketball star’s detainment earlier this year on drug charges. After a highly publicized trial in Russia this summer, Griner was given a lengthy prison sentence as a result of the guilty verdict that was issued.

"A Russian court has found Brittney Griner guilty on drug smuggling and possession charges," NPR reported in early August. "The widely expected verdict comes after a monthlong trial and nearly six months after the basketball star was arrested at a Moscow-area airport with cannabis vape cartridges in her luggage."

When Griner was transferred to a Russian prison notorious for its hard forced labor and terrible living conditions a few weeks ago in early November, the pressure mounted on the Biden Administration to secure Griner's release.

While news of that release earlier today drew applause from some, others decried the price that the U.S. Administration paid in securing the basketball star's release, by releasing an arms dealer so notorious that a documentary film was made about him in 2014, a movie called The Notorious Mr. Bout.

Prior to the prisoner swap on Thursday, the AP story noted above reported that Bout was "...serving a 25-year sentence on charges that he conspired to sell tens of millions of dollars in weapons that U.S officials said were to be used against Americans."


The AP also reported on Thursday that to secure the release of Griner, President Biden issued an executive grant of clemency to free the Russian arms dealer from a federal prison in Illinois.

Critics of the prisoner swap pointed out that the Biden Administration had sent a clear message to leaders of foreign powers like Russia, Iran, and elsewhere, that to achieve their desired ends, they simply needed to incarcerate an American and turn up the public relations heat.

Biden, whose approval rating in America fell to nearly its lowest level ever at 38 percent this week, also found plenty of criticism from Americans angry that he had not secured the release of former U.S. Marine Paul Whelan.

That list of critical remarks included the ire of Dallas Cowboys defensive star Micah Parsons, a linebacker helping lead the 9-3 Cowboys towards the NFL playoffs with 12 quarterback sacks so far this season and stellar play that has the young NFL star in the hunt for Defensive Player of the Year honors.

Not long after the breaking news of Griner’s release due to the prisoner swap had taken place on Thursday morning, Parsons wasted little time in making his feelings known.

“Wait nah!!! We left a marine?!! Hell nah” said Parsons’ tweet.

Not long after that initial tweet, Parsons reportedly issued another tweet with screenshots showing him retweeting the Biden tweet referenced above, before adding “We still not voting for you!” That tweet has now been deleted from the NFL star’s account.

Parsons later added on his Twitter account: “My last tweet was no shot at Brittney Griner,” he tweeted. “I’m super happy she’s back home as she should be. I just have family who served and it’s crazy to me the President wouldn’t bring him home too. I’m the furthest thing from a trump supporter but I’m not a fan of Biden either.”

After a storm of social media pushback came in Parsons’ direction, he ultimately apologized and walked back his original comments.

“Just spoke to some people that I respect and trust. I should have been more educated on the topic and not tweeted out of emotion for my family and others who have served,” tweeted Parsons. “For that I apologize. Also if what I’m told about the attempts to bring Ret Marine Paul Whelan home are true then the best outcome was accomplished. I pray Mr. Whelan comes home but am extremely happy for Brittney and her family. I am not too prideful to admit when I’ve made a mistake.”

Parsons wasn’t the only NFL star power criticizing the price that the Biden Administration paid to achieve Griner’s release earlier on Thursday. Former Cincinnati Bengals quarterback, four-time Pro Bowler, and widely known TV and radio commentator Boomer Esiason—who was the 1988 NFL MVP and the 1995 Walter Payton NFL Man of the Year honoree—was also critical from his WFAN radio show on Thursday.

“I’m telling you, more people feel that way than don’t. I can tell you that right now," said Esiason in a New York Post news story. "I know that we’re all happy that Brittney’s home like we said earlier on. But when you think about the magnitude of what we traded to get back a WNBA professional athlete and left a Marine sitting there whose family has been trying for years to get him out of there with nothing, nothing from the U.S. government.

Esiason then summed up his feelings with this comment in the NY Post news story: “I kinda feel like the Russians basically were using her to get this guy out. It’s not an even swap – it’s not. We all know what happened to Brittney should have never happened. But man, we look so pathetic. And listening to our President talk about this is such a pathetic feeling. I want to be happy, but I can’t be.”

Also unhappy with the price paid for Griner’s release on Thursday are many of the nation’s firearms owners and 2nd Amendment supporters.

With the Biden administration increasing its anti-gun rhetoric in recent weeks and talking about trying to push for more gun control measures in the face of increasing crime statistics in many parts of the country, that angst from American firearms owners certainly wasn’t calmed any on Thursday morning by Biden’s release of a notorious and deadly illegal arms dealer back into Russian hands.

Nor will the heat on the Biden Administration fall much after Thursday’s move, especially in light of his recent anti-gun comments and his Administration’s leaving behind more than $8 billion dollars’ worth of military equipment and arms in the 2021 withdrawal from Afghanistan, a move that included some 350,000 M4 and M16 rifles, 60,000 machine guns, and 25,000 grenade launchers according to Forbes.

While there may be peace and good will in some circles of the nation following Griner’s release on Thursday and the approach of the annual Christmas holiday later this month, there isn’t much of that in Washington right now.

And after the events of Thursday, including the release of a notorious arms dealer that many are opposed to, President Joe Biden probably shouldn’t expect much of that peace and good will anytime soon.

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