The Right’s Reaction to Brittney Griner is Identity Politics

Joshua Adams
Published in
3 min readDec 9, 2022

WNBA star Brittney Griner, jailed because she carried vape cartridges containing cannabis oil in her luggage, was release yesterday. She had been imprisoned in Russia since a week before their invasion of Ukraine. Griner was released in exchange for Viktor Bout, a notorious arms dealer.

Though many rejoiced at the news, there was a sizable amount of critics, saying that Bout’s release is a national security threat and that the Biden administration should have prioritized the release of Paul Whelan, a former Marine Russia accused of spying.

I do think it is fair for people to be concerned about the release of a notorious arms dealer. Though this reactionary fear can blind critics from nuanced understanding on how prisoner exchanges between adversarial countries work (they are almost always lop-sided) and people had a much more muted reaction to, for example, instances like President Trump’s deal with the Taliban, I don’t think we should off-handedly dismiss the implications of Bout’s release. Where I diverge is the implication that the U.S. should have let her rot in jail for a decade, waiting for a deal that may never happen.

But the Right’s reaction to BG’s release has been pretty telling. Sen. Marsha Blackburn tweeted that Joe Biden left a Marine stranded behind enemy lines. Matt Gaetz implied that Whelan wasn’t prioritized because he doesn’t have a jump-shot. According to Charlie Kirk’s suggestion, she got treated better because she was a WNBA pot-smoking lesbian. Tucker Carlson said she was only freed because she is not white and a lesbian, and Whelan is a Trump voter. Keri Lake said BG should have refused to leave in order to force Biden to renegotiate. Essentially, Biden himself freed BG because he is anti-white, unpatriotic and “woke.”

The Right’s condemnation of BG’s freedom is a good example of their form of identity politics, particularly relating to who deserves their solidarity and who does not. In their minds, she didn’t deserve to be released before Whelan. Brittney Griner is not the type of American for which conservatives have empathy for, Whelan is. This is a bit ironic, since Whelan’s family put out a statement in support of Griner’s release.

Joshua Adams
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Joshua Adams is a journalist from Chicago. UVA & USC. Taught media and communication at DePaul & Salem State. Twitter: @ProfJoshuaA