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Brittney Griner: Caught Between a Real War and a Culture War

The WNBA star has been detained in Russia for 150 days.
July 14, 2022
Brittney Griner: Caught Between A Real War & A Culture War | Not My Party With Tim Miller

[Editor’s note: Watch Not My Party every week on Snapchat.]

Tim Miller: WNBA star Brittney Griner has been held captive in Russia for 150 days for allegedly bringing her hash pen to the Moscow airport.

Kahn Souphanousinphone (from King of the Hill): I hate Russia.

Miller: This is “Not My Party,” brought to you by The Bulwark. Yep, Brittney Griner is still in prison and terrified.

Clay Calloway (from Sing 2): And for good reason.

Miller: A former American detainee in Russia, Trevor Reed, described the conditions she’s experiencing as medieval, with rotten food and little medical care.

Trevor Reed: I did not sleep there for a couple of days. . . . too worried about who was in the cell with me.

Jake Tapper: You thought they might kill you.

Reed: Yeah.

Miller: The Griner saga sits at the intersection of a few rage-inducing, hot-button issues in our politics. Of course, there’s the Russian invasion of Ukraine, but also the domestic culture war over race, gay rights, and women’s sports.

Satan (from South Park): I’m talking about very important stuff here.

Miller: First, the geopolitics. Griner is essentially human bait for an evil tyrant who continues to conduct an unprovoked war of aggression, despite his military’s shocking incompetence and massive losses.

Male voiceover: Fake news.

Miller: Putin knows he can use this celebrity hostage to his advantage as long as America wants other concessions related to the war. Specifically, a retreat from the invasion that’s causing unfathomable loss of life and rising food and gas prices worldwide. And let’s be clear, a hostage is exactly what Griner is. Not a legitimate prisoner.

Ray Donovan (Live Schreiber on Ray Donovan): Don’t kid yourself.

Miller: When she was detained, she was not given consular access or other due process typically offered to foreigners charged with minor offenses. This makes her situation different from other high-profile celebrity cases. Like when President Trump and Kim K. helped get ASAP Rocky out of prison in Sweden.

Liz Lemon (Tina Fey on 30 Rock): Is that real?

Jason Nesmith (Tim Allen in Galaxy Quest): It’s all real.

Miller: Kardashian diplomacy is not likely to work here given that we’re dealing with a bloodthirsty enemy desperate to grab any possible leverage. Russian media has indicated that they’re aiming to trade Griner for a much bigger fish. A very bad man named Viktor Bout, one of the most infamous arms dealers of all time. Nicknamed the “Merchant of Death,” he was even the basis for a Nicolas Cage character in Lord of War.

Yuri Orlov (Nicolas Cage in Lord of War): The end of the Cold War was the beginning of the hottest time in arms dealing. The arms bazaar was open.

Miller: The notion that it’s reasonable to swap a harmless vape enthusiast for a dude who supplied weapons to anti-American terrorists is utterly preposterous. But it shows that Putin knows he has leverage. And Biden is mired in a very sticky situation if he wants to get Griner out.

Kimmy Schmidt (Ellie Kemper on Unbreakable Kimmy Schmidt): That doesn’t sound great.

Rainbow Johnson (Tracee Ellis Ross on black-ish): No, it is not.

Miller: Which brings us to the U.S. politics. The rage over Griner’s imprisonment is related to the fact that she’s a black, gay, female athlete. Her coach lashed out recently, saying—

Vanessa Nygaard: If it was LeBron, he’d be home, right?

Miller: That’s kind of hard to argue with. For starters, LeBron would’ve never had to supplement his income by playing Russian hoops in the offseason, like WNBA players have to.

Seimone Augustus: If you look at it, this our first job.

Miller: This discrepancy hits particularly hard this week as I’m taking my baby girl to her first day of basketball camp. It sucks to know that no matter how hard she works at it, she’s gonna kind of be treated like she’s second-class.

Mrs. Roberts (Lorraine Toussaint in The Night Before): That’s some straight-up bull****.

Miller: Because the same assholes who performatively rant about the sanctity of girls sports when it comes to transgender athletes, don’t actually care about female athletes. They only use the WNBA as a tool for their cheap jokes.

Clay Travis: ESPN put out a stat recently: The WNBA Draft, the viewership increased by 25 percent. And I’m like, yeah, they went from seven to nine.

Rebecca Bunch (Rachel Bloom in Crazy Ex-Girlfriend): So funny.

Miller: Meanwhile, a woman at the top of her game still needs a side hustle, and as a result is sidelined and fearful that she might die in a desolate fascist prison.

Cal (Seth Rogen in The 40-Year-Old Virgin): That’s f****& up, man.

Miller: It’s enough to make you want to scream or choke out Putin. So that righteous rage from female athletes, their fans, as well as black and LGBT supporters of the president, raise the stakes on this matter beyond a typical hostage situation. It leaves Biden stuck between a rock and a hard place. Feeling empathy for Griner—

Cherelle Griner: BG took the time to write President Biden. He did write her back.

Miller: —but having to deal with a combustible reality that leaves her as a vulnerable victim of wars beyond her control.

Sterling Archer (on Archer): Rampage!

Miller: We’ll see you next week for more “Not My Party.”

Tim Miller

Tim Miller is The Bulwark’s writer-at-large and the author of the best-selling book Why We Did It: A Travelogue from the Republican Road to Hell. He was previously political director for Republican Voters Against Trump and communications director for Jeb Bush 2016.