Brittney Griner Had Better Earn Her Freedom

Brittney Griner Had Better Earn Her Freedom

Women’s basketball star Brittney Griner was freed from a Russian prison on Thursday after President Joe Biden released one of the planet’s deadliest arms dealers in an exchange. Maybe now the WNBA player, who made a point to boycott the national anthem for an entire season, will stand and show some respect for her country that let a Marine rot while bringing her home.

Griner’s Freedom Was Far from Free

Griner was released in exchange for Soviet military translator-turned-Russian arms dealer Viktor Bout, otherwise known as the “Merchant of Death.” Michael Braun, the former chief of operations at the U.S. Drug Enforcement Administration, called Bout “one of the most dangerous men on the face of the Earth” in a 2010 “60 Minutes” interview.

“He is a shadow facilitator,” Braun said. “He is arming not only designated terrorist groups, insurgent groups, but he’s also arming very powerful drug-trafficking cartels around the globe.”

Now the Pentagon is concerned Bout will begin arming warlords again, according to a senior defense official who spoke to Politico. That’s the man this administration released to secure the freedom of a women’s basketball Olympic gold medalist who checks all the right identity-politics boxes as a black lesbian celebrity.

However, Paul Whelan, an American Marine serving a 16-year Russian prison sentence on espionage charges, remains in their custody. Whelan was arrested while on vacation in Moscow four years ago and was convicted in a 2020 trial that was condemned by U.S. officials as unfair. Griner had been serving a nine-year prison sentence after her conviction on drug charges in August.

“Sadly, for totally illegitimate reasons, Russia is treating Paul’s case different than Brittney’s,” President Biden said on Thursday. “And while we have not yet succeeded in securing Paul’s release, we are not giving up. We will never give up.”

But after two years in office, President Biden didn’t appear to make any effort at securing his release, despite Whelan being incarcerated the entire time. In contrast, the White House stepped into high gear when Griner was first arrested in February for carrying vape cartridges containing hashish oil, which is illegal in Russia.

The Biden administration prioritized the black basketball player convicted on drug charges over the white male Marine. Biden claimed American officials were offered either Griner or nobody, but the White House also had another option: Bout for both. If Vladimir Putin rejected the offer, Biden should have left the table. The White House capitulated to Putin instead.

A Debt to Repay

Griner landed at San Antonio’s Kelly Field Air Force Base in Houston on Thursday morning. Good for her and her family. But she also lands with a debt to pay. 

Two years ago, as riots over “systemic racism” reached a fever pitch in the summer of 2020, erupting in the worst outbreak of civil unrest in recent memory, Griner demanded the WNBA take an axe to the national anthem.

“I honestly feel we should not play the national anthem during our season,” said Griner, a center for the Phoenix Mercury. “I think we should take that much of a stand.”

Not only should she stand for the national anthem at basketball games, but she should spend the rest of her life making her freedom worth the cost. She should either harness her wealth and fame for other Americans locked up abroad or support military veterans’ groups to honor the Marine left in Russia.

Identity-obsessed leftists will inevitably call this article racist because they can’t fathom that a member of any one of their protected classes should be held to any standard beyond gross victimization. But here’s the hard truth: Griner’s minority status boosted the priority of her case among the Biden administration. The White House spokeswoman said so herself when making Griner’s release about identity.

“Brittney is more than an athlete, more than an Olympian,” said Press Secretary Karine Jean-Pierre. “She is an important role model and inspiration to millions of Americans, particularly the LGBTQI+ Americans and women of color.”

But here’s another hard truth: Being black is not an accomplishment. Nor is being “LGBTQI+” an accomplishment. Griner was released over a Marine after the U.S. played one of its biggest cards by giving up an international arms dealer. It’s up to Griner to make it worth it.

Tristan Justice is the western correspondent for The Federalist. He has also written for The Washington Examiner and The Daily Signal. His work has also been featured in Real Clear Politics and Fox News. Tristan graduated from George Washington University where he majored in political science and minored in journalism. Follow him on Twitter at @JusticeTristan or contact him at

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