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Brittney Griner’s Return Proves Politics Help and Harm Black Women

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On the morning of Thursday, Dec.8, WNBA superstar Brittney Griner was finally released from Russian custody after ten months.

For months, the WNBA and the member-centered Black Feminist Future organization kept constant pressure on the Biden administration to secure Griner’s release. The latter began the campaign #BringBrittneyHome over nine months ago. They demanded 1) that the U.S. government prioritize the swift and safe release and return of Griner facing no charges, 2) that there was consistent communication and visibility of her detainment, and 3) that she had access to the same benefits and protections of other US citizens—specifically consular access.

The work of both organizations reflects a long-standing tradition of Black feminist organizing and the role that Black women consistently play in the struggle for social justice and change.

As a Black woman, the moment of her release has been on my mind since we first learned of Griner’s detainment in March, weeks after she had been taken into Russian custody.

We live in a world, in a country, where Black women, girls, and gender-expansive folks are often dehumanized, devalued, or disregarded. For Griner, a tall, Black, openly queer woman, being detained in Russia posed a direct threat to her life and overall well-being. In a statement co-written with other members of the North American Society for the Sociology of Sport (NASSS) we argued against the use of athletes as political prisoners.

A portion of our statement reads:

“As scholars of sport who engage in transnational research on the impact of sport as a social institution, we find the detainment of athletes unacceptable. It is unacceptable that the celebrity status of an athlete to be used in political conflicts in which they have no direct stakes. International athletes should feel free to participate in their sport and earn a living whether at home or abroad without fear for their safety or freedom,” (NASSS, 2022).

The use of athletes as political capital opposes what we stand for both as an organization (NASSS) and me as a Black feminist scholar, Black woman, and human being.

Griner’s release is cause for celebration, and it’s worth reiterating how Black women have been central to her release.

Her detainment, however, speaks to larger social issues within our society both at home and abroad. That Griner played for years in Russia prior to her detainment exposes the larger issue of gender pay disparities in sports and society at large.

Around the time of Griner’s arrest, the USWNT won a major victory in the fight over pay equity. They received a promise of $24 million dollars in back pay and an admission that the gender pay gap in soccer has been unequal for years.

This win, however, is far from rectifying the disparities in pay equity in sports beyond soccer.

Continue reading over at First and Pen.

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