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Opinion | Brittney Griner Is Trapped and Alone. Where’s Your Outrage?

When unspeakable tragedies occur, people often call for unity. They’ll say, “We are Boston Strong” or “Je suis Charlie” or “We are [insert wherever or whomever the unthinkable has happened to].” It’s a laudable instinct to claim solidarity with those who have suffered, to imagine we truly understand the ways we are all connected, to proclaim that what affects one of us affects all of us.

With the W.N.B.A. star Brittney Griner wrongfully detained in Russia for more than four months because a small amount of hashish oil was allegedly found in her luggage, I’m wondering why we haven’t seen more of a groundswell of demands for her release. In the attention economy, Ms. Griner’s predicament seems as if it’s being somewhat ignored.

The media is, at least, covering the story, and some rights groups and athletes have spoken up, but that isn’t enough. More public pressure for action is necessary. “We are B.G.” should be a viral rallying cry, but it isn’t — and why? Is it misogyny? Racism? Homophobia? The unholy trifecta?

Ms. Griner pleaded guilty to drug charges, but explained she did not intentionally break Russian law. Now she faces up to 10 years in a penal colony. She is trapped and alone, her plight unimaginable. There are, in fact, reportedly more than 60 Americans who are wrongfully detained abroad, all wondering when or if they will be saved. They have families who are working tirelessly for their return. They all deserve our compassion and attention.

Ms. Griner is receiving more attention than most, but that’s not saying much. I suppose I have a particular empathy for her because as a tall, tattooed, Black, queer woman, I understand that we are often invisible and overlooked despite standing out.

Each time Ms. Griner is transported to court, a two-and a-half-hour journey each way, she is put in a cage too small to accommodate her large frame, according to Ms. Griner’s wife, Cherelle Griner. She communicates with her family through letters. In the few images of Ms. Griner released since her detention, she looks ashen.

No one should be treated this way, famous or not. But Ms. Griner is famous, a highly decorated basketball player­ — an eight-time W.N.B.A. All Star. She won Olympic gold as part of the U.S. team in Rio in 2016 and in Tokyo in 2021. During the several years she played for UMMC Ekaterinburg in Russia, she helped lead the team to EuroLeague titles.

Although a Kremlin spokesman has denied that Brittney Griner’s imprisonment is politically motivated, President Vladimir Putin surely knows her value as a pawn. There has been talk that Russia may be willing to trade Ms. Griner for a Russian arms dealer, Viktor Bout, who’s serving a 25-year sentence in the United States. Given Ms. Griner’s relatively minor infraction, the political cost of making such an exchange for a man nicknamed the “Merchant of Death” is incredibly high. But the human cost of doing nothing would be even higher.

The longer she remains a pawn, the more her humanity is erased. Recently, Ms. Griner wrote President Biden a letter in which she expressed her fear. “Please don’t forget about me and the other American detainees,” she wrote. She also said that she had a new understanding of freedom now that hers has been taken. After months of tireless advocacy, Cherelle Griner has finally spoken with Mr. Biden and Vice President Kamala Harris, both of whom pledged to do everything possible to bring B.G. home.

At 6-foot-9, the muscular and tattooed Ms. Griner cuts an imposing figure. But when I spoke with Cherelle Griner, she told me, “B.G. is just more than a basketball player. Right now people just see her as No. 42, the person that goes out there and is aggressive on the court,” she said. “She is a person with feelings just like everybody else. And so she cares about her family, her friends. She’s very intentional with any and everything that she does with the people in her life. And for over 130 days, they’ve stripped her of that.” Cherelle’s words were a stark reminder of what’s at stake for Brittney, of how increasingly vulnerable she is.

This infuriating situation also highlights the problems with the economies of women’s sports. W.N.B.A. players are paid a small fraction of what their N.B.A. counterparts earn. To supplement their income, many women play abroad during the American off season. During a post-game news conference, Coach Vanessa Nygaard of the Phoenix Mercury, Ms. Griner’s team, remarked that if Ms. Griner were LeBron James, she would already be home. The painful truth is that he would not be in this situation with the fame and remuneration that far eclipses what female players receive.

At the W.N.B.A. All-Star game this month, players on both teams wore Ms. Griner’s number during the second half, reminding the audience of her detainment while honoring her. LeBron James and other N.B.A. players have used their platforms to bring attention to her situation, but too many others have stayed quiet.

We should all be calling for action. Write your senators and representatives, encouraging them to lobby the Biden administration on Ms. Griner’s behalf. Demand action on social media. We must not forget about Ms. Griner’s detention, nor the other Americans in similar circumstances, amid the challenges many of us are facing in our own lives.

We are B.G. We need to repeat that mantra until there is enough of a groundswell to bring her home. We are not free until all of us are free.

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