As Brittney Griner made her WNBA return last weekend, after being detained in Russia for several months, U.S. Marine Paul Whelan is still being detained – after more than four years.
The contrast in the Griner v. Whelan cases, especially with respect to time detained and with respect to the tone of the public discourse, suggests how flawed much of the “narrative” is here in America.
A Tale of Two Prisoners: Brittney’s Story
Griner, commonly regarded as a top female basketball player of all time, was detained last year in Russia for marijuana possession.
And when U.S. diplomats failed to secure an immediate release for Griner, the U.S.-left exploded with outrage, in response to what was largely a flawed narrative.
Here’s a quick synopsis of the left’s Griner narrative: Griner was detained without cause in Russia; U.S. diplomats, and the U.S. public, didn’t care because Griner was a Black woman; had Griner been a different identity, say, a White male, or had she been a greater celebrity, like say, Lebron James, Griner would have been released immediately.
But even a superficial examination of the Griner narrative would have revealed fundamental inaccuracies. For starters, Griner was not detained without cause. Griner, who had marijuana in her possession, was detained for breaking Russian drug laws.
Now, I would argue that Russian drug laws are draconian – but I’m not a Russian citizen and it’s not really my place to determine or discuss Russian drug laws. When you enter a foreign country you are subject to the laws of that country, whether you agree with them or not.
Griner should have had more respect for Russian laws while she was in Russia earning millions in salary. (Oh, and don’t forget, we have plenty of people detained in America on similar marijuana-related offenses.)
A Tale of More Prisoners in Russia
Second, the idea that Griner didn’t receive attention or sympathy for her situation on account of her identity is absurd.
Griner received outsized attention and outsized sympathy for her situation because of who she was.
Ever heard of Paul Whelan? Ever heard of Evan Gershkovich? Probably not. Paul Whelan was detained way back in 2018 on espionage charges. And while Griner, who was detained in 2022, is back in America playing pro basketball, Whelan is still sitting in a Russian prison, hoping that he’ll be released sooner rather than later.
“I have been told that I won’t be left behind,” Whelan said recently. “I feel that my life shouldn’t be considered less valuable or important than others who have been previously traded.”
The case of Whelan and Gershkovich, two White guys, undermines the idea that Griner was left to rot in Russia on account of being a Black woman, or on account of being a relatively minor celebrity. Griner’s identity played into an outrage response that increased pressure on U.S. diplomats to get Griner out as soon as possible. Yet as pressure and outrage increased to get Griner out, Whelan’s name barely registered. And now Whelan is still in Russia and it seems like no one cares.
The Griner-Whelan contrast speaks to a narrative that extends beyond just the Russian detainment of American citizens, but to the at-large “identity” narrative that has been consuming America for the last few years. The narrative is often flawed and relies on facts and circumstances that are categorically inaccurate.
Anyway, I’m glad Brittney Griner is back home. That is truly great news and all Americans should celebrate.
Now it’s time to get Paul Whelan and Evan Gershkovich home, too.
Harrison Kass is the Senior Editor at 19FortyFive. An attorney, pilot, guitarist, and minor pro hockey player, Harrison joined the US Air Force as a Pilot Trainee but was medically discharged. Harrison holds a BA from Lake Forest College, a JD from the University of Oregon, and an MA from New York University. Harrison listens to Dokken.