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WNBA’s Brittney Griner stands for anthem in first game after Russian detainment

The United States' Brittney Griner (15) shoots over Japan's Maki Takada (8) during the Tokyo 2020 Olympics Women's Basketball Final at Saitama Super Arena on Aug. 8, 2021, in Saitama, Japan. (Robert Gauthier/Los Angeles Times/TNS)
May 15, 2023

WNBA center Brittney Griner made a notable change before the Phoenix Mercury game against the Los Angeles Sparks on Saturday. Griner, who had previously knelt during the national anthem as a form of protest, stood with her teammates during the anthem for the first time since her detainment in Russia.

Griner previously took a knee during the anthem as a form of protest. However, since being rescued in a prisoner exchange after being detained in Russia last year, Griner told reporters that hearing the anthem “hit different.” She compared it to the feeling of being at the Olympics and receiving a gold medal.

The game against the Sparks was Griner’s first since Game 4 of the 2021 WNBA Finals. In February 2022, Griner was arrested in Russia and charged with drug possession. After President Joe Biden approved a high-profile prisoner swap, she was able to return to the United States and restart her career in the WNBA.

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Griner signed a yearlong deal worth $165,100 to rejoin her team earlier this year. In the game against the Sparks, the 6-foot-9 center scored 10 points in 17 minutes and secured three rebounds. However, her team ultimately lost by 19 points.

As the No. 1 draft pick in 2013, Griner finished the 2021 season with an average of 20.5 points, 1.9 blocks, and 2.7 assists per game. She also had a career-high of 9.5 rebounds per match.

It remains to be seen whether Griner will continue to stand during the national anthem in future games. Meanwhile, Paul Whelan, a Marine veteran imprisoned in Russia, is wondering why he’s “still sitting here” after Griner was released.

Whelan, who was arrested in 2018 for alleged espionage, said last year that his message to Biden is “this is a precarious situation that needs to be resolved quickly.”

“I am greatly disappointed that more has not been done to secure my release, especially as the four year anniversary of my arrest is coming up. I was arrested for a crime that never occurred,” Whelan told CNN at the time. “I don’t understand why I’m still sitting here.”