Preston Xanthopoulos: How will Brittney Griner respond to hard lessons learned in Russia?

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I am very glad Brittney Griner is back on U.S. soil with her family, friends and loved ones. It is, however, not without controversy and the controversies should be discussed, as there is a lot for all of us — Brittney, our government and all Americans — to learn.

Alicia Preston Xanthopoulos
Alicia Preston Xanthopoulos

First and foremost, the laws of the United States are not extended to foreign countries, so, don’t break laws when traveling internationally. It may lead to an “international incident”; you may get imprisoned for a seemingly extensive period of time for something that isn't a crime in your home country; and the U.S. may be pressured to release a prisoner convicted of conspiring to kill Americans and supplying weapons to terrorists like the Taliban and Al-Qaeda, among other things.  (More on that in a moment.)

I keep hearing in reference to Brittney Griner’s imprisonment and sentencing to a penal colony in a harsh region of Russia that she was being “wrongfully detained.” Griner was not “wrongfully" detained. Her conviction and sentence is in line with Russian penal code. Russia doesn't care that Griner had a United States medical card to carry the two viles of cannabis oil and they don’t have to. Russian law is very harsh on drugs and while I think a nine-year sentence for the crime is incredibly excessive, Vladimir Putin doesn’t care what America thinks about Russia’s sentencing guidelines. Was she given an extra long sentence because she’s American? Because we are funding a defensive war against Russia in the Ukraine? Because Russia and the U.S. are adversaries? Yes, I think that's probably true. Which would be another reason not to break their laws while traveling there, or simply maybe not traveling there at all, with the current international climate of the past few years.

That’s a point of controversy, too. People espousing that Griner “had to” go to Russia to play in the off-season, because she doesn’t make enough money for the WNBA, and the subsequent discussion of pay equality between male and female athletes. A. She makes over $220,000 per year from her WNBA team and that doesn’t include sponsorships. If she can't live off that, I’m not sympathetic about this “need” to play basketball in Russia. B. The “pay equality” thing here is absolute nonsense. Annual revenue for the NBA is approximately $7.4 billion dollars and the WNBA revenue is around $60 million. You don’t get the same salary if you don’t get the same revenue.

Speaking of the cost of things, what did the release of Brittney Griner cost the U.S.? In dollars? Nothing. Travel costs. However, it was indeed at a great cost. In exchange for Griner, we swapped a prisoner internationally known as the “Merchant of Death.” A movie has been made of him, books written, because of his violent, criminal, global enterprise. Now, Viktor Bout, responsible for unknown numbers of deaths around the world, is a free man, safely back in Russia, so Griner can be safely back in America.

America. Land of the free, home of the brave. A nation that at great expense, worked for nine months for Griner to be released. A country that Brittney Griner “protests.” A nation that Griner said as part of her protest, she would refuse to be on the court when the National Anthem was played. Her words, "I'm going to protest regardless … I'm not going to be out there for the National Anthem.” I hope she comes home to a new perspective on this great country. It also reinforces the reality, that politics should always be kept off the playing field.

I’ve been watching the World Cup, the biggest athletic competition in the world. I found myself rooting for Saudi Arabia in the early stages, in their game against Argentina. They won. David beat Goliath and that one match is considered possibly the biggest upset in World Cup history. It didn’t cross my mind that Saudi Arabia is a terroristic regime and that fact didn't stop me from rooting for the underdog. Because, what the World Cup is about, just like the Olympics, is bringing nations together, despite our geo-political differences. The same goes for all sports. If I go to a Red Sox game, I neither know nor care what the politics of the guy next to me is. We are on the same team, cheering for our beloved Sox. That unites us. We enjoy sports, because they give us a chance to forget about life and to be part of a team; they give us an excuse to celebrate; a reason to be entertained. We shop for game days and cook accordingly; we dress, even in our own living rooms, to match and support the team, knowing we are united with others in their living rooms, too. Politics and political protests, should never interfere with that. Whether it is choosing the soccer team to root for, or deciding whether to honor the Star Spangled Banner on the court.

So, welcome home, Brittney Griner. I hope you use your star power to work with the United States to bring home the 60 other Americans “wrongfully detained” in foreign nations. You were the one America chose to get out of prison, you owe her a great deal of honor and gratitude. I hope we see that when you are back on the court.

To follow the imprisonment of Russian-held Paul Whelan and all known foreign-imprisoned Americans, you may learn about all of it at:

Alicia Preston Xanthopoulos is a political consultant and member of the media. She’s a native of Hampton Beach where she lives with her family and three poodles. Write to her at

This article originally appeared on Portsmouth Herald: Preston Xanthopoulos: Hard truths revealed by Brittney Griner detention