The Cover Story
Brittney Griner's Fight for Freedom
By Sean Gregory
Senior Sports Correspondent, TIME

This assignment was a first: a profile of an American basketball superstar unavailable for an interview, given that she’s fighting for her freedom in a Russian prison.

Even since the news broke in March that Brittney Griner—the two-time Olympic gold medalist, NCAA and WNBA champion, and four-time Euroleague champion for her pro team in Russia—was arrested for carrying cannabis oil in her luggage through the Moscow airport—much of the coverage has focused on the geopolitical and legal ramifications of her case. And rightly so. The U.S. government has classified Griner as “wrongly detained” by Russia, and as Russia continues its aggression against Ukraine, she’s become the most visible political pawn in a clash between superpowers. The resolution of her case carries enormous consequences.

(The Biden administration, for its part, insists that Griner’s release is a top priority: For the first time, the U.S. government acknowledged that it has made an offer to Russia secure the release of Griner and Paul Whelan, an ex-security officer who’s been imprisoned in Russia for more than three years.)

In our cover story, we wanted to take a step back and give readers in-depth insight on Griner herself. Who is that person sitting in a cage in a Russian courtroom, holding up pictures of her wife? Who drove WNBA All-Stars to wear her jersey in her honor? How did she end up in the center of this stare down between the U.S. and Russia?

Griner’s story has been lost in all the shifts in the news cycle. Although it was impossible to talk to Griner in Russia under these circumstances, people close to her—her wife Cherelle, her teammates, her Olympic coach, her best friend, her high school basketball teammate—were able to share little-known stories and details about Griner’s life. In reporting out Griner’s story, I’ve learned that she’s overcome hate and bullying to hit her stride as a loving and beloved teammate and co-worker, and a generous soul. All the more reason to root hard that she makes it back home.

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