This Independence Day, Remember Brittney Griner. We're Not Free Until She Is | Opinion

The WNBA is easing into the midway point of the 2022 season, delineated by All-Star Weekend July 9-10 in Chicago. But the festivities celebrating the league's finest will be missing one of its biggest stars: Brittney Griner, who has been detained in Russia since Feb. 17.

Griner was arrested in a Moscow airport. She has been accused of transporting vape cartridges containing hashish oil into the country. Since that time, she has been granted only inconsistent consular access and had her pretrial detention extended four times.

The most recent extension added another six months to the time she can expect to spend in a cell as her case moves into the trial phase, which began Friday in Moscow—three days before the July 4 holiday in the U.S. celebrating this nation's independence. As Americans enjoy the long weekend of summer fun with loved ones, Griner will be wading through a legal process in a country where she does not speak the language, through a legal system with which she is unfamiliar.

Brittney Griner
TOPSHOT - US WNBA basketball superstar Brittney Griner arrives to a hearing at the Khimki Court, outside Moscow on June 27, 2022. - Griner, a two-time Olympic gold medallist and WNBA champion, was detained at Moscow airport in February on charges of carrying in her luggage vape cartridges with cannabis oil, which could carry a 10-year prison sentence. KIRILL KUDRYAVTSEV/AFP via Getty Images

Driving a dart into the dystopian quality of these events, Americans will be flipping burgers on the grill while Griner awaits her fate on a possible 10-year prison sentence. It is a saturnine juxtaposition, but not just because of Brittney. Too many of us avert our eyes to the trampling of liberties when it happens to other people, and only chisel into our own indifference when it happens to us. These attitudes of apathy toward the injustices and betrayals inflicted on others keeps our democracy, and the freedoms that come with it, teetering on a perilous edge.

There is a damning ennui among those enjoying their constitutional guarantees to the fullest extent along racial, gender, and socio-economic lines, while leaving so many others with only a theoretical access to life, liberty and the pursuit of happiness. As poet and civil rights activist Maya Angelou once put it, "Equal rights, fair play, justice, are all like the air: we all have it, or none of us has it."

Thus, so long as Griner remains confined in a cell or paraded before the media in cuffs, we should consider ourselves free of her unique bondage—but similarly shackled.

Griner set out to play basketball on the other side of the world because salaries for women's basketball players in the U.S. are insufficient for athletes who are playing to finance not just their lives not but their post-playing futures. Pay inequity, therefore, is the seed of her ordeal—as well as the way to prevent similar calamities.

Brittney Griner
Brittney Griner Wasserman Media Group

Black women in the U.S. average just 64 cents for every dollar white men are paid, totaling around $1 million in unpaid wages throughout their lifetimes. But those who are not Black and not women would be remiss to perpetuate the delusion that this would never happen to them. Some believers in a woman's right to make her own decisions about her reproductive health never envisioned a time that the 50-year standing of Roe vs. Wade would be overturned either.

Systemically marginalized groups continue to endure the brunt of freedom-denying policies and social hierarchies with more frequency than other groups and at greater force. This is why I started a petition to secure Brittney's safe and swift return to the U.S. It already has over 288,000 signatures. Will you sign to get us over 300,000, and share on social media using #WeAreBG?

#WeAreBG is more than a hashtag; it's an acknowledgment that the liberties afforded us in this constitutional democracy were never guaranteed, and appear to be edging toward endangerment and require protection. Because being stripped of liberties only happens to other people until it happens to you.

It would behoove us this Independence Day to take the notion that we are all Brittney Griner to heart and reflect upon the ways in which we are not free but passively convince ourselves otherwise. Between nibbles of hot dogs or tofu skewers and swigs of beer, we should contemplate the illusion of our liberty, because we are not free until Brittney Griner is free.

Tamryn Spruill covers women's basketball from an intersectional perspective. She is writing her first book about the WNBA, for ABRAMS Books and is the winner of the LA Press Club's 2020 Southern California Journalism Award for Best Sports Commentary, Print/Online for "Critical Assist". Spruill started the viral petition to bring Brittney Griner back home in March 2022.

The views expressed in this article are the writer's own.