‘Hit Different’: WNBA Star Finally Stands During National Anthem After Detainment in Russia
Before her 10 month imprisonment in Russia, lesbian-identifying Women’s National Basketball Association (WNBA) star Brittney Griner was an avid national anthem protestor before her games. She had previously vocalized opposition to the anthem, claiming that the song was not representative of black Americans and went so far as to say that the anthem should not even be played at games. In a surprising turn of events — after her release from Russian custody — she both verbally and physically expressed a changed perspective, capturing America’s attention.
The Mercury center had traveled to Russia in February of 2022 to play basketball on an international level. Upon Griner’s arrival at the Sheremetyevo International Airport near Moscow, authorities found vape cartridges containing hashish oil in her possession, resulting in her immediate arrest. Many believed that it was a “clear effort by Russian President Vladimir Putin to gain leverage.” Although she was sentenced to nine years in prison, the Biden administration made a prisoner swap in December, and she returned to the U.S. and resumed playing.
For the first time in years, Griner stood for the national anthem before her game on Friday, a display that grabbed headlines. The WNBA player claimed that the Star Spangled Banner “definitely hit different” this time around. Phoenix Mercury coach Vanessa Nygaard agreed with Griner’s newfound perspective of the anthem.
“We looked at each other, and we just had chills,” Nygaard said. “Just to see her back out there — it’s an absolute miracle. It was amazing. It’s giving me chills again.”
Griner’s actions before her detainment in Russia stand in stark contrast to those on Friday night. Her agent, Lindsay Kagawa Colas, published an op-ed through Time Magazine providing a reason for her client’s decision to stand and preempting any questions viewers might raise. Interestingly, she framed Griner’s choice to stand during the anthem as just another form of “activism.”
“Tonight, when viewers tune in for the tip-off of the 2023 WNBA season, they’ll see a league with activism deeply woven into its DNA — using the full range of this vocabulary to remind us what patriotic protest, at its best, is all about.” She continued by sharing that Griner’s decision to stand was both “physically for the anthem itself” as well as “symbolically for the rights of their peers to make themselves heard and express dissent loudly and boldly, and in accordance with the proudest traditions of this country, however they see fit.”
Despite the intention behind her actions, Arielle Del Turco, director of the Center for Religious Liberty at Family Research Council, alluded to the influence that being arrested in a foreign country had on Griner.
“I think Griner’s detainment in Russia was a huge reality check,” she told The Washington Stand. “It’s easy for Griner to complain about any perceived disparities in the U.S., but when she experienced a country that can detain her at the snap of a finger and delay justice for political ends, I think she is rightly feeling a lot more gratitude for the freedoms afforded to all Americans.”
Although Griner continues to make her own left-leaning political views clear, her decision to stand during the national anthem has encouraged American viewers.
“There’s plenty we might disagree with Griner about, but she is moving in the right direction by committing to show up and stand up for the U.S. national anthem. It’s an appropriate gesture for someone who clearly owes the United States so much.” Del Turco said.
As one Fox report put it, Americans banded together to make her freedom a top priority, “Despite the insistence by some on the left that America is systemically racist and homophobic.” Because of the effort put forward by the free nature of the U.S., Griner has the ability to continue advocating for issues she finds important, like transgender athletes, now that she is back.
“I think Griner received an education that provides some important context to how she thinks about America,” Joseph Backholm, senior fellow for Biblical Worldview and Strategic Engagement at FRC, told TWS. “America is an imperfect place, but the Left’s obsession with the imperfections can cause them to lose sight of how fortunate we are to be Americans. Hopefully, Griner’s Russia experience really has made her more grateful for what America is, even if she wants some things to be different.”