Search

Swanson: Brittney Griner’s return ‘a miracle,’ makes her a symbol of hope

The Phoenix Mercury’s Brittney Griner passes the ball as the Sparks’ Chiney Ogwumike defends during the first quarter of their WNBA season opener on Friday night at Crypto.com Arena. (Photo by David Crane, Los Angeles Daily News/SCNG)

A fan waves a picture of Phoenix Mercury center Brittney Griner’s face during their WNBA season opener against the Sparks on Friday night at Crypto.com Arena. (Photo by David Crane, Los Angeles Daily News/SCNG)

The Phoenix Mercury’s Brittney Griner, center, is double-teamed by the Sparks’ Chiney Ogwumike, left, and Layshia Clarendon during the third quarter of their WNBA season opener on Friday night at Crypto.com Arena. (Photo by David Crane, Los Angeles Daily News/SCNG)

Phoenix Mercury center Brittney Griner controls the ball as the Sparks’ Joyner Holmes defends during the first half of their WNBA season opener on Friday night at Crypto.com Arena. (Photo by Ronald Martinez/Getty Images)

Phoenix Mercury center Brittney Griner blocks a shot by Sparks guard Dearica Hamby (5) during the second half of their WNBA season opener on Friday night at Crypto.com Arena. (AP Photo/Ashley Landis)

Phoenix Mercury center Brittney Griner (42) controls the ball as Sparks guard Dearica Hamby, left, and Joyner Holems defend during the second half of their WNBA season opener on Friday night at Crypto.com Arena. (AP Photo/Ashley Landis)

The Phoenix Mercury’s Brittney Griner blocks a shot attempt by the Sparks’ Dearica Hamby, bottom, during the third quarter of their WNBA season opener on Friday night at Crypto.com Arena. (Photo by David Crane, Los Angeles Daily News/SCNG)

Phoenix Mercury center Brittney Griner, right, celebrates a foul with teammates during the first half of their WNBA season opener against the Sparks on Friday night at Crypto.com Arena. (AP Photo/Ashley Landis)

Phoenix Mercury center Brittney Griner shoots in front of Sparks forward Layshia Clarendon, left, during the first half of their WNBA season opener on Friday night at Crypto.com Arena. (AP Photo/Ashley Landis)

Phoenix Mercury center Brittney Griner, right, fouls Sparks forward Nneka Ogwumike during the first half of their WNBA season opener on Friday night at Crypto.com Arena. (AP Photo/Ashley Landis)

Phoenix Mercury center Brittney Griner shoots as Sparks guard Nia Clouden defends during the second half of their WNBA season opener on Friday night at Crypto.com Arena. (AP Photo/Ashley Landis)

The Phoenix Mercury’s Brittney Griner controls the ball as the Sparks’ Nneka Ogwumike defends during the second half of their WNBA season opener on Friday night at Crypto.com Arena. (Photo by Ronald Martinez/Getty Images)

Phoenix Mercury center Brittney Griner (42) applauds on the court before their WNBA season opener against the Sparks on Friday night at Crypto.com Arena. (AP Photo/Ashley Landis)

The Phoenix Mercury’s Brittney Griner waits to warm up before their WNBA season opener against the Sparks on Friday night at Crypto.com Arena. (Photo by David Crane, Los Angeles Daily News/SCNG)

The Phoenix Mercury’s Brittney Griner warms up before their WNBA season opener against the Sparks on Friday night at Crypto.com Arena. (Photo by David Crane, Los Angeles Daily News/SCNG)

The Phoenix Mercury’s Brittney Griner warms up before their WNBA season opener against the Sparks on Friday night at Crypto.com Arena. (Photo by David Crane, Los Angeles Daily News/SCNG)

Phoenix Mercury center Brittney Griner joins a group of girls for a photo on the court before a WNBA season opener against the Sparks on Friday night at Crypto.com Arena. (AP Photo/Ashley Landis)

The Phoenix Mercury’s Brittney Griner joins a group of girls for a photo on the court before their WNBA season opener against the Sparks on Friday night at Crypto.com Arena. (Photo by David Crane, Los Angeles Daily News/SCNG)

The Phoenix Mercury’s Brittney Griner, left, and Moriah Jefferson listen as Vice President Kamala Harris speaks to the team in the locker room before their WNBA season opener against the Sparks on Friday night at Crypto.com Arena. Griner was playing in her first WNBA regular-season game since returning to the U.S. after spending nearly 10 months in a Russian prison. (Photo by Mario Tama/Getty Images)

Vice President Kamala Harris, right, speaks to members of the Phoenix Mercury, including Brittney Griner, in the locker room before their WNBA season opener against the Sparks on Friday night at Crypto.com Arena. Griner was playing in her first WNBA regular-season game since returning to the U.S. after spending nearly 10 months in a Russian prison. (Photo by Mario Tama/Getty Images)

From left, the Phoenix Mercury’s Brittney Griner, Moriah Jefferson and Brianna Turner listen as Vice President Kamala Harris speaks to the team in the locker room before their WNBA season opener against the Sparks on Friday night at Crypto.com Arena. Griner was playing in her first WNBA regular-season game since returning to the U.S. after spending nearly 10 months in a Russian prison. (Photo by Mario Tama/Getty Images)

Vice President Kamala Harris, center, laughs while standing with Brittney Griner, top, and other members of the Phoenix Mercury in the locker room before their WNBA season opener against the Sparks on Friday night at Crypto.com Arena. Griner was playing in her first WNBA regular-season game since returning to the U.S. after spending nearly 10 months in a Russian prison. (Photo by Mario Tama/Getty Images)

The Phoenix Mercury’s Brittney Griner warms up before their WNBA season opener against the Sparks on Friday night at Crypto.com Arena. (Photo by David Crane, Los Angeles Daily News/SCNG)

Phoenix Mercury center Brittney Griner stands for the National Anthem before their WNBA season opener against the Sparks on Friday night at Crypto.com Arena. Griner’s return, after she was jailed for nearly 10 months in Russia, is a reminder of the other 53 Americans wrongfully detained overseas and for their families and friends to not give up hope. (Photo by David Crane, Los Angeles Daily News/SCNG)

Phoenix Mercury center Brittney Griner speaks to reporters after her WNBA season opener against the Sparks on Friday night at Crypto.com Arena. Griner was playing in her first WNBA regular-season game since returning to the U.S. after spending nearly 10 months in a Russian prison. (AP Photo/Ashley Landis)

Phoenix Mercury center Brittney Griner speaks to reporters after her WNBA season opener against the Sparks on Friday night at Crypto.com Arena. Griner was playing in her first WNBA regular-season game since returning to the U.S. after spending nearly 10 months in a Russian prison. (AP Photo/Ashley Landis)

Phoenix Mercury center Brittney Griner speaks to reporters after her WNBA season opener against the Sparks on Friday night at Crypto.com Arena. Griner was playing in her first WNBA regular-season game since returning to the U.S. after spending nearly 10 months in a Russian prison. (AP Photo/Ashley Landis)

Phoenix Mercury center Brittney Griner speaks to reporters after her WNBA season opener against the Sparks on Friday night at Crypto.com Arena. Griner was playing in her first WNBA regular-season game since returning to the U.S. after spending nearly 10 months in a Russian prison. (AP Photo/Ashley Landis)

Phoenix Mercury center Brittney Griner speaks to reporters after her WNBA season opener against the Sparks on Friday night at Crypto.com Arena. Griner was playing in her first WNBA regular-season game since returning to the U.S. after spending nearly 10 months in a Russian prison. (AP Photo/Ashley Landis)

The Phoenix Mercury’s Brittney Griner, left, arrives before their WNBA season opener against the Sparks on Friday night at Crypto.com Arena. (Photo by David Crane, Los Angeles Daily News/SCNG)

The Phoenix Mercury’s Brittney Griner, left, arrives before their WNBA season opener against the Sparks on Friday night at Crypto.com Arena. (Photo by David Crane, Los Angeles Daily News/SCNG)

The Phoenix Mercury’s Brittney Griner, left, arrives before their WNBA season opener against the Sparks on Friday night at Crypto.com Arena. (Photo by David Crane, Los Angeles Daily News/SCNG)

of

Expand

LOS ANGELES — Brittney Griner came into the WNBA as a game-changer. And she comes back to the league as a game-changer.

Her introduction, in 2013, was as the dunking, dreadlock-rocking, mold-breaking, all-time-leading-shot-blocking collegian who was set to become the new face of the league.

Her reintroduction, this week, is a reminder of the 53 other Americans wrongfully detained overseas. A reason to hope, for their families and friends to keep believing.

Griner’s Phoenix Mercury stumbled, 94-71, in the WNBA season opener against the host Sparks on Friday night at Crypto.com Arena, her first WNBA game since Oct. 17, 2021.

Before tipoff, the 6-foot-9 center, now with more closely shorn hair, got a hug on the court from Vice President Kamala Harris, who’d been a key figure “of the administration that allowed us to play against BG tonight,” as Sparks forward Nneka Ogwumike put it.

Griner also felt the love from the L.A. crowd. She stood for the national anthem, and then she went and got a loping, locked-in 18 points on 7-for-9 shooting, to go with six rebounds and four blocks in 25 minutes. “Not good enough,” she’d say, “didn’t get the dub.” But, really, it was plenty remarkable.

https://t.co/PNBlVzeGf7 pic.twitter.com/KsEigRyah6

— Mirjam Swanson (@MirjamSwanson) May 20, 2023

Her very public return to work after 10 harrowing months last year in Russian captivity on drug charges is likely to inspire a shift in how people here go about advocating on behalf of their loved ones detained abroad.

The old playbook called for supporters of U.S. citizens who’d been taken hostage or wrongfully detained by state or non-state actors to stay mum and avoid the media spotlight, lest they irk captors or inflate a hostage’s value, potentially complicating efforts to secure release.

But Griner’s people drew up something different after she became a pawn in the geopolitical chess game of hostage diplomacy, a disturbing trend that in recent years has seen more Americans detained on politicized or outright bogus charges than have been captured by terrorist groups or criminal gangs, according to U.S. authorities.

The play: Make some noise!

Griner’s wife, Cherelle, and her WNBA colleagues and fans spoke up and spoke often. Posted about her predicament on social media. Wore “We Are BG” shirts and hoodies. Played on courts adorned with “BG42” decals. Made it the focus of the 2022 WNBA season.

“In the beginning, when there’s not a lot of information, you do have to be careful about how you say things and what you say because ultimately you don’t know how long they’re gonna be over there, you don’t know where they are, you don’t want to compromise their safety,” said Ogwumike, the WNBA players’ association president who helped lead the push for Griner’s return.

“But then, OK, once things are a little bit more established – hoping that the situation is transparent enough to know their situation – that’s when we realized, hey, we can make some noise about this. And we’re gonna just continue to say something about it every single day and moves have to get made at a certain point in time, you know? You gotta say something.”

Brittney Griner has now been detained in Russia for 100 days. Last night in Indiana, the @LASparks@nnekaogwumike and @33katielou implored people to advocate for her release — and shared some ways to do that. #WeAreBG.

Story to come, but have a listen: pic.twitter.com/D42yS2d6bO

— Mirjam Swanson (@MirjamSwanson) May 28, 2022

That it worked, that Griner, a two-time Olympic gold medalist, was released in December as part of a prisoner swap for Russian arms dealer Viktor Bout, still feels like a miracle to her folks at home. Phoenix coach Vanessa Nygaard said Friday: “No one thought that it was going to happen. Like, we like we were very hopeful, but we were being told that all the time and so the idea that she’s here … it’s a day of joy and it’s just an amazing, amazing thing has happened.”

And it seems to be changing the calculation for families who desperately want to see their loved ones freed.

“I think Brittney Griner and Cherelle Griner really changed the face of how we look at wrongful detainees and hostages,” Neda Sharghi, who leads the Bring Our Families Home campaign, said in a recent E.W. Scripps interview. Her brother, Emad, is an American citizen who has been held in Iran for five years, on what his family says are false accusations of espionage.

“They have really been obviously very public about it. And because of them, more Americans know about it,” Sharghi continued. “Thanks to them, I think we will never go back into the shadows.”

Griner has promised to do her part to support those efforts, partnering with the Mercury in support of the Bring Our Families Home campaign and pledging resources to help the group publicize other detainees’ stories.

She’s sought to steer the support she received toward Paul Whelan and others being detained abroad on dubious charges. “Those families stood alongside you and all who supported the WeAreBG Campaign,” Griner wrote on Instagram. “I hope you’ll join me in writing to Paul Whelan and continuing to advocate for other Americans to be rescued and returned to their families.”

Whelan, as you probably now know, is the former U.S. Marine who is serving a 16-year sentence on espionage charges that the United States denies.

His and Griner’s story will forever be intertwined. Hers and the stories of dozens of others, including those pictured alongside her on the new mural on Phoenix’s Footprint Center. They include Siamak Namazi, in Iran. Eyvin Hernandez, in Venezuela. Austin Tice, in Syria. Kai Li, in China. All wrongfully imprisoned, the United States says.

And now also Wall Street Journal reporter Evan Gershkovich, in Russia. He’s 32, like Griner. And he was apprehended – wrongfully, assert the United States and his employer – on espionage charges in March while on a reporting trip in Yekaterinburg, the city where Griner played professionally during the WNBA offseason to supplement her WNBA earnings.

In a news conference in April, Griner said her management team had been in touch with Gershkovich’s family: “I have that mindset of, you know, no man left behind. No man, no woman left behind.”

And so even as she returned to the court – about the only place where she can possibly feel “safe and normal,” teammate Diana Taurasi said Friday – Griner isn’t putting her travail in Russia behind her. She can’t.

Because she returned to the court not as Brittney Griner, the basketball great. But, for many, as Brittney Griner, symbol of hope.

“For the families who are still doing the fight, I hope me coming home shows that it’s possible,” she said after Friday’s game. “And there’s a lot to do on every end. And any chance that I get to be a part, for my team to be able to share information that we learned through my process, that could be helpful in another case, we’re doing that. Those lines are always open.”

Related Articles

LA Sparks |


Sparks rookie Zia Cooke shines in WNBA debut

LA Sparks |


Sparks spoil Brittney Griner’s WNBA return with blowout win

LA Sparks |


Sparks season preview: A new look and something to prove

LA Sparks |


Swanson: WNBA’s deep roster cuts are a turn-off for would-be fans

LA Sparks |


Three big picture questions before Sparks tip off 2023 WNBA season

Share the Post:

Related Posts