“These two women have nothing in common, except they’re Black women and have been devalued and not protected,” she said.
Watching Griner’s verdict on Thursday — and watching the basketball star await that verdict while in a cage — was devastating to Johnson.
“I see myself in her. I see my family in her. I see the growing numbers of women in this country in prison for petty, petty crimes,” she said. She broke down in tears at one point when watching the sentence, and although her emotional reaction in one way felt strange since she doesn’t know Griner personally, it still feels so personal.
“It feels like we’re under attack everywhere. Queer people are under attack everywhere. Black people are under attack everywhere. Women seem to be under attack everywhere. And to be a queer Black women from the United States at this time, it’s like there’s a target on your back,” she said.
On the White House’s response to Griner’s sentencing, Johnson wants to know what escalation looks like in order to get her home.
In her closing statement on Thursday, Griner apologized to her teammates, fans, and to the city of Yekaterinburg, where the Russian women’s basketball team that Griner has frequently played on is based — which she said had become her “second home.” She said that she never meant to break any laws in Russia, telling the judge: “I made an honest mistake and I hope that in your ruling, it doesn’t end my life here.”
“I want to also apologize to my parents, my siblings, my Phoenix Mercury organization back at home, the amazing women of the WNBA, and my amazing spouse back at home. I never meant to hurt anybody, I never meant to put in jeopardy the Russian population, I never meant to break any laws here,” Griner said.
Griner has been playing in Russia to supplement her income — which more than half of WNBA players do, according to an April op-ed penned by Griner’s agent, Lindsay Kagawa Colas, who noted that “top athletes can make six to seven times the maximum WNBA salary overseas — and the disparity as recently as 2019 was 10 to 15 times more than WNBA salaries.” That Griner and other WNBA players must go overseas to supplement their salaries also speaks to the pay equity disparity in women’s sports, York said.
The verdict was heartbreaking and scary to watch, said Imani Rupert-Gordon, executive director of the National Center for Lesbian Rights — and pointed to how alone Griner is. And although advocates expected Griner to be convicted, in light of Russia’s track record with criminal trials, it still struck a chord.
“It doesn’t feel fair,” Rupert-Gordon said.
In a joint statement, WNBA commissioner Cathy Engelbert and NBA commissioner Adam Silver said Thursday’s verdict “is unjustified and unfortunate, but not unexpected,” adding that the leagues are still committed to her safe return home.
“It is our hope that we are near the end of this process of finally bringing BG home to the United States,” the statement read. The WNBPA union urged Blinken and his Russian counterpart Lavrov to discuss the proposed release plan for Griner, saying in a statement: “It is Day 168. It is time that BG comes home swiftly and safely.”
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