The embattled, Houston-born basketball star who is the center of an ongoing international controversy is now on the cover of Time Magazine.
Brittney Griner, currently jailed in a Russian prison for bringing hashish oil into the country in February, lands on the new cover the same week that the Biden administration offered a prisoner exchange deal to Russia. The proposal would send Viktor Bout, the convicted Russian arms trafficker serving a 25-year prison sentence in the U.S., home in exchange for Griner and fellow detained American Paul Whelan.
Time selected photographer and multimedia artist Lorna Simpson — whose photo collage work focuses primarily on race, gender, and identity — to create the cover imagery. Simpson, who has never met Griner, tells Time that as a fellow Black woman, she relates to the fear of incarceration.
“In February, as Russia’s threats of invasion in Ukraine escalated, watching the airport surveillance video of Brittney Griner passing through security made my heart sink,” Simpson tells Time writer Cady Lang. “One of my greatest fears as a teenager growing up in Queens, New York, was always imprisonment.”
Playing on the standard sports media day team photo, Simpson utilizes an image shot by photographer Stephen Gosling of Griner in a black uniform. Meteor showers that Simpson took from a 19th century print leap from Griner’s jersey into the background.
It’s a familiar theme for Simpson, who has crafted similar images of Black women interlaced with vintage astronomical maps and objects, for Jet and Ebony magazines, in an examination of identity.
As for Griner, Simpson feels her cover image suggests a sense of urgency, noting that the action in the Griner piece is “bringing into focus how much of her life has been upended, the urgency of her release and safe return to the U.S., and the preciousness of time that is passing.”
As CultureMap previously reported, Griner entered a plea in Russian court on Thursday, July 7 for possession of hashish oil. In the country to play for team BC UMMC Ekaterinburg of the Russian Premier League during the WNBA’s offseason, she was immediately detained and jailed by Russian Customs.
After worldwide scrutiny, her trial began on July 1.
Griner told the Russian judge that she had “inadvertently” brought the hashish oil into the country — where it is illegal to do so — and asked the court for mercy, ESPN reports. She could face up to 10 years in prison.
During her detainment, calls came from across the globe for her release, especially to President Joe Biden, whose administration was criticized for being slow to act. “I’m terrified I might be here forever,” she wrote to Biden in a handwritten letter.
Officially, the White House said it would employ “every tool” to release Griner, stating that Russia’s invasion of Ukraine complicated negotiations. Russia’s demand for a prisoner swap led to the belief among many that Griner, a woman of color and gay, was targeted and made to be a political pawn, as the New York Times notes, between two adversarial global superpowers.
Her wife, Cherelle Griner, made a recent publicity tour, where she made passionate pleas for her wife’s release and shared that she was disappointed to not hear from the White House personally, prompting phone calls from President Biden and Vice President Kamala Harris.
Born in Houston, the six-foot-nine Griner was the top-ranked female basketball player in the nation and chose to stay in state and play for the Baylor Lady Bears, where she became one of college basketball’s biggest stars. Famed for her unstoppable post presence, defensive skills, shot blocking, and offensive dominance, she was drafted by the Phoenix Mercury professional franchise. She later led Team USA to Olympic gold in the Rio and Tokyo games.
Griner, who boasts a size 17 shoe and an wide wingspan, is one of only 11 women to win an NCAA championship, WNBA championship, Olympic gold medal, and an FIBA World Cup gold medal.