Brittney Griner’s release brings jubilation from the sports world

News broke Thursday morning that Brittney Griner was coming home to the United States after the U.S. government completed a prisoner swap with Russia. Viktor Bout, a former Soviet military officer whose story may have inspired the 2005 Nicholas Cage film “Lord of War”, was convicted of conspiring to kill Americans back in 2011 and has been in prison ever since, is now heading back to Russia in the 1-for-1 exchange.

Beyond the complexities of international politics, understandably raw emotion ruled in the immediate aftermath of the announcement as supporters and friends of Griner sounded off about Brittney’s release and soon-to-be-completed return to America.

WNBA star Breanna Stewart has posted about Britney Griner’s detention in Russia literally every day on Twitter since it began. Now, with BG finally free, she was able to vary the message a bit – in a very positive way.

Sports icon and activist Billie Jean King also got in on the celebratory tweets, showing the scope of this ordeal within the sports community.

NBA Commissioner Adam Silver voiced the overall feelings of much of the basketball community – excitement over her return and crediting the work of the WNBA players and organizations for their efforts.

And the WNBA Commissioner Cathy Engelbert, justifiably, elaborated on those feeling after such a trying ordeal.

And, of course, the WNBA team Griner has played for her entire career was excited to get their friend, teammate and star center back.

Earlier this week U.S. Secretary of State Anthony Blinken made it clear America was committed to seeing the Griner situation through to the end as long as serious negotiations were occurring. It appears he was foreshadowing just how close the two sides were. But there was another name involved in these negotiations, former American Marine Paul Whelan, that as Engerbert alluded to was not included. It’s important to understand that these negotiations have layers to them – Whelan’s charged with espionage, whereas Griner was in a Russian penal colony on drug charges.

Whelan’s family themselves stated they understood this difference, and spoke of their own happiness for Griner’s release.

In full comments, Whelan’s family went on to state that it was always a “…strong possibility that one might be freed without the other.” That is exactly what happened here – Griner’s release is a moment to celebrate while remembering Whelan’s continued struggle. He, and any other American wrongfully detained in Russia or anywhere, must continue to be prioritized and fought for.

But the inability to bring Whelan home does not belittle the significance of Griner’s release. If anything, it’s a reminder of the complexity of our geopolitical realities, and the fragility of what we all hold so near and dear to our hearts – being with our families.

After 294 days, Brittney Griner gets to see hers once again. That, this and any time of the year, is worthy of celebration.

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