On July 14, Brittney Griner’s trial continued after pleading guilty to drug possession and smuggling in Russia. The WNBA star expressed to the judge that her actions were unintentional. Vape cartridges with cannabis oils were found in Griner’s luggage. However, she had no idea she would be breaking any Russian laws with her actions. Instead she explained how quickly she packed for her trip back to Russia to play during the offseason.
Griner’s lawyer, Maria Blagovolina, presented a permission letter from the Arizona Department of Health. In the letter, physicians recommended medical cannabis for Griner’s pain. However, medical marijuana is not legal in Russia.
Moreover, the defense presented one of Griner’s drug tests on Friday. The test came back negative. No substances were found in her system and this was supported by UMMC team doctor, Anatoly Kalabin.
As professional athletes, at levels of college basketball and higher, drug test are common. Kalabin worked with Griner since 2014 and claims that she has never failed a drug test.
Griner’s Russian Teammates Take The Stand
Griner is not only a star basketball player to the fans of the WNBA and Phoenix Mercury. But as mentioned, Griner has made a huge impact to the game of basketball for females in Russia. Griner first began playing with the UMMC Ekaterinburg in the offseason of 2014-2015. She was accompanied by her Mercury teammate Diana Turasi. In Russia, the two Mercury legends won back to back championships.
Winning, playing the game she loves, and making extra money (due to gender pay gap) brought Griner back to Russia. She resigned from UMMC Ekaterinburg from 2015 and has continued to sign and play for them in the International Basketball Federation.
Griner has led the team to success and built great relationships with her team. So great that some of those involved with the UMMC Ekaterinburg appeared in court as character witness.
Maksim Ryabkov, the director of operations who recruited Griner had nothing but positive things to say. Ryabkov expressed how she helped them win. It was also mentioned that she was unique and “Russian fans love her as both an athlete and a personality”.
UMMC player and captain, Yevgenia Belyakova, also had very nice things to say about Griner. Belyakova said that she loved to meet with fans who of course loved her back. She added that Griner helped out at the animal shelter and was a kid magnet. Belyakova spoke on behalf of the whole team and wanted to express the WNBA star’s importance, helping in any way possible.
The support of her Russian family brought Griner to tears. The 6’9 WNBA star is a gentle giant, a good person. UMMC helped build a positive perception of her. Ryabkov explained that the team is trying to help her and stay out of the spotlight/media in fear of making the situation worse.
The July 14th trial was the first day the public has heard from Griner’s Russian team; it appears as though they are a bit unsupportive. But the character witness said otherwise.
Through her trial, Griner is locked up and forced to keep uplifting spirits for her future. In what may be one of the lowest points in her life, she must always hold it together for the media.
Griner’s next trial date will be July 26. Her detention is Russia is still extended until December 20 pending the results of her case.
The options known to the public include a prisoner swap with Viktor Bout and up to 10 years in prison.