Before you read a single word of this atypical entry, let me emphatically state upfront that I am a passionate fan of the WNBA and have admired Brittney Griner’s talents since her college days and her prowess as a star for the Phoenix Mercury. I knew about the many demons she conquered as she matured, and the happiness she found both by coming out publicly and openly sharing how much she loved her wife. I cheer love before rebounds, and she became prolific at both.
I also know as an older, white, straight male I am in the minority of the age, race, gender and pronoun preference demographic breaks of the WNBA fan base. The fan base it does have is exceptionally passionate and disproportionately vocal. Its players have been outspoken and ingratiating and the atmosphere in person in games is unusually intimate and distinctly throwback in price versus a typical NBA game. The fact that I can appreciate those nuances makes me somewhat atypical in my demographic niche.
Politically, the qualities that WNBA fans have align extremely well with the current leadership of the Democratic party, and who they perceive as their most opportunistic base, especially given the demography of their opposition’s base. And they definitely don’t align with the mindset of the leadership of Russia, where Griner necessarily supplemented her relatively meager U.S. professional earnings by playing off-season months in their women’s professional league.
They don’t even align with the mindset of the governor of her home state of Texas, who callously tweeted just this in the wake of the celebratory news that Griner was finally being released from a Russian prison camp after nearly 300 days of incarceration:
“US Marine Paul Whelan,” the governor wrote on Twitter. “Bring him home.”
How he expressed what he did is as tone-deaf as one could fear from any elected official.
WHAT he expressed should not be ignored.
Now that Griner is indeed on her way to safety, recovery and, one prays, a quiet holiday with her wife who has now shared private moments–and, natch, a photo op– with President Biden and Vice President Harris, it can’t be ignored that being left behind in his own Russian hell is indeed Paul Whelan.
And while it may seem callous on my part to remind anyone of this at this emotional time, let it not be forgotten that while Griner certainly did not deserve the fate that Russian courts decreed, she was guilty of a lapse of judgment involving packing hash oil, which is far less accepted in that country than ours. She was indeed a victim of political blackmail.
Paul Whelan, on the other hand, was a victim of unfound allegations, but somehow, as somehow who was not a public figure, and someone who did not serve as a face to a number of underrepresented communities, somehow his plight has been more than under the radar.
The optics of those backing up President Biden as he joyfully announced Griner’s return, particularly the look on Vice President Harris’ face, can’t be fully ignored.
Perhaps Governor Abbott’s snark, or the ranting of Kevin McCarthy, can be dismissed as incideniary and parochial.
Maybe the lament of Whelan’s twin brother David as reported by ABC News, would be a more measured reaction, and one I identify with:
“As the family member of a Russian hostage, I can literally only imagine the joy she will have, being reunited with her loved ones, and in time for the holidays. There is no greater success than for a wrongful detainee to be freed and for them to go home. The Biden Administration made the right decision to bring Ms. Griner home, and to make the deal that was possible, rather than waiting for one that wasn’t going to happen,” he said.
But clearly within those words are pangs of regret that a white, straight, older male is somehow not as meaningful to a challenged but politically savvy administration that is quick to take a victory lap in the same week it pats itself on the back for gaining a narrow win in the Senate against a hopelessly underqualified Republican running back.
No one is asking Griner for anything immediate. She’s more than entitled to some quality time and a holiday break Shes certainly had a crappier year than almost anyone else. With the possible exception of Paul Whelan.
So as she settles back into a more normal existence, even preparing for another WNBA season, here;s hoping she and her fans–including her wife’s new Washington buddies–to redouble their efforts to bring home another victim of justice, and arguably a hero in his own right, if not for Christmas, at least for Easter. We all chanted “Free Brittney”. It worked. it wouldn’t be too much to ask for her to lend her support to a movement to “Free Paul”.
Who knows? It might make fans out of a demographic that the WNBA could use to expand its own footprint and yes, its profits. They’re honestly not that broad or huge.
Enjoy your holidays, Brittney. Welcome home. It’s a nice–PARTIAL–win. But this particular game isn’t quite over. Finish it. Help bring Paul Whelan home, too.