At the end of almost two minutes of confessions, thanks and promises to continue performing, Sherel Griner touched her chest with her hand and said: “I will smile now.”
That smile was wide and bright, one of those that lifted the cheeks so high that the eyes squinted.
At that moment, her joy and her relief were so palpable that they came through the screen, warm and so welcome.
Cherell’s wife, WNBA star Brittney Griner, has gone home to the United States after 294 days as a political prisoner in Russia, the last few weeks of which she spent in a penal colony more than 200 miles from Moscow.
For many, Thursday was a day of joy. Celebrate. Exhale.
BG is free.
Her fearless sisters in the WNBA, her brothers in the NBA, former President Barack Obama, her friend and Olympic coach Don Staley, there was joy in many corners of social media at the news. This was unexpected for many; Griner lived in Vladimir Putin’s Russia, and it is almost impossible to endure when someone you love is sent to prison in a country that has a difficult relationship with the United States.
In the early weeks, there was a belief that silence in the media was the right way to go. Then, when the United States classified her as “wrongly detained” keeping her name in the headlines was the way to go. There have been reports attempting to explain why Griner’s trial played out the way it did, that pleading guilty and sentencing and then going through the appeals process, however scenario the outcome, would help clear the way for negotiations for her release. All this was enlightening, though not exactly comforting, especially for those who had no real understanding of how such situations develop.
Despite all this, when Griner was given an exorbitant nine-year sentence, even by Russian standards, for possession of vape cartridges with less than a gram of hemp oil (a standard paper clip weighs more) and sent to a remote camp prison in early November, there was no way to know if she would serve time there. all nine years. There was a feeling of helplessness.
But Thursday just after 8 a.m. on the east coast first report that she was released. Minutes later, it became official on President Biden’s Twitter account: “I was talking to Britney Greener a few minutes ago. She is safe. She is on the plane. She’s on her way home.”
Griner was wrongfully detained for almost 10 months, and we may never know the full extent of what she experienced there. A 6ft 9in black queer woman was taken captive in a country that newly expanded laws against LGTBQ and has a judicial system in which virtually every defendant is found guilty, regardless of intent, prior history, or evidence.
It was terrible.
Often thinking about how scared and alone Griner must have felt, the despair her wife, family, and many who love her must have felt was heartbreaking.
Knowing that the American government had made a deal to bring her home and see Cherell Griner and President Biden on Thursday morning, it wasn’t like that at all.
We do not yet know what Griner’s physical and mental condition is. She has gone through an unfathomable ordeal and needs time to heal and recover. But the best news is that the process can start now.
The joy was certainly overshadowed by the sobering fact that Russia did not want to send retired US Marine Paul Whelan back to the US with Griner in exchange for convicted arms dealer Viktor Bout, which is what the Biden administration was reportedly trying to conclude. But how The Whelan family acknowledgedOnce it became clear that the only deal Russia would agree to was a Griner for Bout, or no deal at all, the administration made the right choice: one American home is certainly better than none.
It has also been tempered by a spate of racist and bigoted hatred of Griner by those whose tweets indicate that they would prefer her to be left in that penal colony if Whelan is not going to be released as well. Or just left there, period.
That is, to analyze another day when the spirit wants to deal with this anger.
But for now, there is only room for joy.
For the strength and perseverance of the WNBA players who attacked over and over again, however, no more fiercely than for their own. They did not let anyone forget their beloved teammate and friend and did everything possible to help her return home.
For the love shown to Britney and Sherel and their families during a difficult and uncertain time.
From the WNBA who named her a 2022 All-Star of Honor to Megan Rapinoe, who had the letter ” bg. Steph Curry, who took a moment at the Golden State Warriors’ ring ceremony to name BJ, Staley and others who tweet her plight daily.
The memory of Cherell Griner’s smile in the White House pulpit on Thursday morning is everything. Joy is real. The relief is significant.
BG is free.