That’s Amaury News and Commentary: Harsh conditions expected for Griner in Russian penal colony

WNBA star Britney Griner is escorted from a Russian courtroom after a hearing in Khimki a suburb of Moscow on Aug 4, 2022. Griner this week was transferred to a undisclosed location to a penal colony. (AP News file)

By Amaury Pi Gonzalez

Brittney Griner has been sent to a Russian penal colony. In an court appearance Griner admitted to mistakenly packing two vape cartridges in her luggage and provided documents that showed the hash oil was legally prescribed by her US doctor for pain management. The WNBA Phoenix Mercury star was sentenced to nine years.

According to rights group Amnesty International, conditions in these colonies and prisons are among the worst in Europe. The facilities are located in remote locations, far from cities, making it difficult for family or human rights workers to visit. This form of isolation is believed to be part of the punishment of pseudo-exile. There are about 700 penal colonies in Russia and close to one million prisoners, making it the most common imprisonment institution.

These penal colonies in Russia are infamous for harsh conditions and forced labor. Sleep deprivation torture is one of many tactics with little medical treatment. An estimated 18 million people were sentenced to gulags between 1929 and 1953, until the death of Soviet leader Joseph Stalin. About 1.6 million died in work camps. When Griner was arrested the Russia-Ukraine war was beginning, with no resolution it is a war that could go on for a longtime and she was caught in the middle of an international situation.

Although Griner was not that well known in the US and other parts of the world because the WNBA is not the NBA and gets little publicity and coverage still she was in Russia to play basketball to supplement her WNBA salary which is a six-figure salary instead of the approximately $1.5 million she normally earns in Russia.

This could have been avoided if Brittney Griner understood the laws of Russia, which are totally different to the US. For example; cannabis is in fact, illegal in Russia, a country with over 145 million people and largest country in size in all of Europe.

Russia is known for having the highest number of people currently (per capita) imprisoned for drug offenses. When a US citizen travels outside the US he/she is subjected to the laws of whichever country she visits, as a tourist or to work in the case of Griner.

It never ceases to amaze me how many people forget that other countries have different laws to US laws, and when we travel we have to obey those laws, which is just common sense. It is either ignorance or arrogance (or both), we travel abroad and we must obey the laws or suffer the consequences. Nobody knows how much time Brittney Griner will serve in prison of her nine (9) years sentence, however, we know that the US is strongly supporting Ukraine to the tune of billions of dollars in weapons in their war against Russia.

More than likely Russia will detain Griner until the current war between those two countries comes to a resolution. She is a small piece of the biggest land war in Europe since WWII, but Russia is using her and will continue to use her because that is how Russia and other countries with similar types of governments operate.

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That’s Amaury News and Commentary podcast: Brittney Griner and Bad Diplomacy

Brittney Griner is escorted from the courtroom in Khimki Russia on Thu Aug 4, 2022. The Kremlin says that all talks about a prisoner exchange must be done in secret. (AP News file photo)

Brittney Griner and Bad Diplomacy

That’s Amaury News and Commentary

By Amaury Pi-González

She traveled to Russia to play professional basketball because as a big star of the WNBA Phoenix Mercury, Brittney Griner needed to supplement her income. The average WNBA salary is under $200,000 per season and there are only 14 players as of this last season that was making $228,094, those were Diana Taurasi, Jewell Loyd, and Breanna Stewart (According to Yahoo finance).

Brittney Griner signed a 3-year / $664,544 contract with the Phoenix Mercury, including an annual average salary of $221,515. In 2022, Griner will earn a base salary of $227,900, while carrying a cap hit of $227,900.

It’s understandable she traveled to Russia to play there because the WNBA (unlike the NBA) doesn’t have a great impact domestically and internationally, with low attendance and low interest as well as media coverage.

The NBA is the “mother of all basketball leagues” as they get huge revenues in the US and internationally, especially in China. Their players’ salaries are in the millions of dollars. For American women, it is totally the opposite.

This July, American women’s basketball star Brittney Griner was convicted of deliberately smuggling drugs into Russia and sentenced to nine years of jail time in a case that has raised concerns she is being used as a political pawn in Russia’s war against Ukraine.

This is what Russia has done for decades, from the days they were under total communist control and called the Soviet Union, to this day under Vladimir Putin.

99.9% of the time these hostage crises are negotiated in secret between the two governments involved and everybody learns about it after the release of the hostage(s) Not this time, the United States made it public to the whole world, that they would release a Russia arms trafficker who is also known as “The Merchant of Death”.

In return, Russia would set free Griner and a US Marine incarcerated accused of spying. Many experts in hostage situations point to the fact that the US played directly into the hands of Putin’s Russia’s government, who are using her as a pawn in the middle of a war they unleashed on Ukraine.

To complicate the matter, the US has been sending weapons and billions of dollars in support of Ukraine against Russia. In other words, Russia and the USA are not the best of “friends” at this time.

Because Russia’s Putin specialized in these types of international issues (he was a KGB agent during the Soviet Union days) he will continue to play the game of leverage as he will ask for others in return if they make a deal.

Unfortunately that Brittany Griner has found herself in the middle of this international conflict, but in the first place she should have been smart enough not to take any type of drugs to Russia. It is easy to find out about the laws of another country when you travel abroad.

That is what the US State Department is for. You can easily find information about traveling to other countries and what you need to do, like their laws.

Professional athletes tend to be arrogant sometimes and do not bother to check on those things when they travel abroad by themselves.

If they travel with a team, that probably would not have happened, because professional teams have cleared all the traveling in advance and know who is traveling, and have control of their athletes, because they are their employees.

Everything has been very quiet, no news, in this case, is bad news for Brittney Griner, because all the reports by Amnesty International shows that Russia is one of those countries where foreign prisoners in jail for breaking their laws are treated and kept in not the best of conditions.

Amaury Pi Gonzalez does News and Commentary at

That’s Amaury News and Commentary: An International Trade is made Public

From left to right, Viktor Bout “The Merchant of Death” for Brittney Griner WNBA star and US Marine Paul Whelan could be made in a prisoner exchange as talks between the US and Russian governments continue (file photos from CNN News)

An International Trade is made Public

That’s Amaury News and Commentary

By Amaury Pi-González

Brittney Griner is a WNBA star with the Phoenix Mercury. She is the only NCAA and professional basketball player to both score 2,000 points and block 500 shots. Without a doubt one of the WNBA’s biggest stars. Griner was in Russia playing for the basketball team UMMC Ekaterinburg during the WNBA off-season.

In February she was detained at Moscow Airport and has been in custody since then. Griner is accused of having vape cartridges containing cannabis oil in her luggage as she was trying to board a flight back to the US.

The US offered Russia a trade in order to free Brittney Griner. In this trade-deal the United States would send back to Russia convicted arms dealer Viktor Bout, aka “The Merchant of Death” for Griner and also American Paul Whelan, who is also in a Russian jail.

This is very unusual. In the great majority of these types of international prisoners trades, the US never releases the information of what they are proposing. The US releases the information after the trade is consummated.

Usually the US government informs the media after the Americans are secured and coming back to their country. The same is when the US announces to the world that they have captured or killed a terrorist, they do not make the announcement before.

In another interesting piece of information, the US government also announced that this proposal was done months ago and they still have not heard any positive response from the Russian government. Today this is a very tough and delicate predicament for Griner who has been there since Russia invaded Ukraine and is caught in the middle of a very tense situation.

Sometimes we here in the US are very naive when we travel abroad, and forget that what in our free country is just a misdemeanor in other countries is a felony and in this case an international crisis.

This is not about basketball but about the tough job of diplomacy between two countries that for many decades (back to the Cold War) have never liked each other.

Griner is facing a ten year sentence if she is convicted and not released because she was carrying cannabis oil inside her luggage.

If this would have happened before the Russian-Ukraine war, chances are we might not even have known about it, and Griner would have been home for months, but she is very unlucky that this happened when a war was just beginning.

The US has sent Ukraine billions of dollars in weapons of war, supporting the fight against Russia. The US, although not involved with soldiers, is fighting Russia. This is the typical proxy war.

All this above sounds like at least a made-for-TV movie or even a feature film in Hollywood. Unfortunately we are all witnessing this as it happens, in real time, in this real crazy world it is more like a Live Reality Show with international consequences.

My hopes are that Brittney Griner can gain her freedom soon and return to her family in the United States.

Join Amaury Pi Gonzalez for News and Commentary at

Headline Sports with Michael Roberson: Houston Baptist University player shot and killed; WNBA star Griner’s call might have been prevented; plus more

Houston Baptist University forward Darius Lee jumps for a lay up against Arizona State during NCAA action on Nov 29, 2022 in Tempe AZ. Lee was shot and killed on Mon Jun 20, 2022 while eight others were wounded in the Bronx NY (AP file photo)

On Headline Sports with Michael Roberson:

#1 Darius Lee a 21 year old soon to be graduate at Houston Baptist University was shot and killed on Monday morning sometime after 12:30 AM EDT. Lee was home from school break in the Bronx in New York when he was killed and eight others were wounded. The shooting happens while there is a national concern about gun violence. Shootings in New York were down by 11% and murder was down by 12%.

#2 WNBA and Phoenix Mercury star Brittney Griner tried to call her wife on Saturday from the US Embassy but the call never made a connection because the phone line at the Embassy was not staffed. Griner could be released as early as July Griner wife Cherelle didn’t get a call from Griner and that there was speculation that the Russian authorities prevented the call.

#3 Daniel Snyder the owner of the Washington Commanders refused to testify before congress on June 22 regarding a toxic work environment. Carolyn Maloney NY-D chairman of the hearing committee gave Snyder a chance to testify virtually. Snyder’s council said that his appearing virtually does not address having council physically present with him. NFL Commissioner Roger Goodell will testify.

#4 Defense lawyers in the Las Vegas Raiders wide receiver Henry Ruggs case are asking that his blood evidence showing he was twice the legal amount to drive when he crashed his car into a Las Vegas woman’s car killing her and her dog. Ruggs lawyers say there was no probable cause to extract blood from Ruggs saying the mere fact that he had an accident didn’t give probable cause to withdraw his blood therefore it was taken from Ruggs unlawfully.

#5 Tony the Raiders Hunter Renfrow is coming off a 103 catch season and two seasons ago Darren Waller caught 107 passes and Davante Adams who caught 111 passes in three of the last four seasons will be on board for the Raiders. Do you see the receivers making up a bulk of the scoring for the Raiders this season?

Michael Roberson filled in for Tony R for Headline Sports heard each Tuesday at

Headline Sports podcast with Jessica Kwong: Griner could be out of Russian jail in July; Mistakes the Celtics have made; plus more headlines

WNBA star and Phoenix Mercury center Brittney Griner mug shot from Russian jail. Griner could be released by the Russian government by July 2022 after being held since Feb 17, 2022. The Russians had wanted a prisoner swap Griner to the US for the Merchant of Death Viktor Bout. (file photo from NY Post)

On Headline Sports podcast with Jessica:

#1 WNBA star Britney Griner reportedly will have to stay in a Russia jail another 18 days and could be released by July. Griner is being held in Russia after being accused of having hashish oil in her suit case while trying to leave the country. Griner has been in jail since Feb 17th and is facing 10 years upon conviction.

#2 Jessica as game 6 of the NBA Finals will tip off on Thursday night the Boston Celtics have struggled losing games four and five to the Golden State Warriors who are now on the brink of winning the NBA Championship. Celtics mistakes described are a cross court pass intercepted, a dribble hand off is dropped, and a lob pass is picked off.

#3 Jessica, wanted to ask you about a female minor league announcer of the Lynchburg Hillcats the single A minor league affiliate of the Cleveland Guardians. Maura Sheridan whose story is making huge headlines after being sexually assaulted by minor league pitcher Daritzon Feliz of the Hillcats. Sheridan in August 2021. Feliz was let go by the Hillcats but the Hillcats further put out a job posting at the beginning of this season for Sheridan’s job. The Hillcats didn’t want any liability on road games with their announcers so they posted Sheridan’s job out.

#4 Cincinnati Bengals quarterback Joe Burrow speaking out on gun control during a press conference on Monday saying that there should be a law making it hard for people to buy those crazy guns. Burrow also said that no one should be able to just go in and buy one saying you have to go through the process to just go in and buy one.

#5 In another case of on the job harassment Phoenix Suns female employee Melissa Fender Panagiotakopoulos who reported that she was the target of bullying, retaliation from her employers after she complained of gender equity and misconduct. The Panagiotakopoulos had been with the Suns since 2007 and worked for eight years as a senior employee and resigned in May. Panagiotakopoulos had wrote a complaint letter to all 16 of the team’s ownership group.

Join Jessica every other Wednesday for Headline Sports at

Headline Sports podcast with Jessica Kwong: Former Angel pitcher Harvey suspended for 60 days after admitting taking pills with Skaggs; Tiger and McIlroy regret Mickelson out for Championship; plus more

Los Angeles Angels Matt Harvey shown pitching against the Houston Astros on Jul 18, 2019 at the Big A in Anaheim the same year he was to have taken oxycodone pills with the late Angels pitcher Tyler Skaggs (AP file photo)

On Headline Sports with Jessica:

#1 Former New York Met and Los Angeles Angel and current Baltimore Oriole pitcher Matt Harvey has been suspended 60 days stemming from his taking oxycodone pills with former and late Angels pitcher Tyler Skaggs.

#2 Skaggs died from  asphyxiating on his own vomit and had oxycodone and cocaine in his system. Eric Kay the Angels former Communications director was convicted for distributing the drugs as five former Angels players testified. Kay is looking at 20 years in jail.

#3 Rory McIlroy and Tiger Woods said it was “unfortunate” and “sad” that Phil Mickelson is not attending the 2022 PGA Championship. Mickelson is taking some time away from golf. Mickelson said that he was going to join the Saudi Super Golf League and had said even with the knowledge that the Saudi King was alleged to have ordered the killing of journalist Jamal Khashoggi Mickelson said he would still be interested in joining the Saudi Super League and got a lot of criticism for that decision and has been quite since.

#4 Jessica, the NBA is working with the WNBA on Phoenix Mercury star Brittney Griner’s release from a Russian prison. Griner had been imprisoned since February and NBA Commissioner Adam Silver and WNBA Commissioner Cathy Englebert are working side by side. Silver said that he’s been working with the White House, State Department, and hostage negotiators for Griner’s release. The Russian Government has offered to release Griner for the Merchant of Death Viktor Bout.

#5 Jessica, the Boston Celtics played last night against the Miami Heat in game 1 of the NBA Eastern Conference Finals in Miami. The Celtics were without Al Horford health and safety issues and Marcus Smart is out with a foot injury both are day to day and could return Thursday night.

Join Jessica for Headline Sports podcasts every other Wednesday at

Headline Sports podcast with Tony Renteria: Will US exchange Griner for Russia’s Merchant of Death? Plus NBA Conference Final predictions

WNBA and Phoenix Mercury star Brittney Griner is led away in handcuffs by Russian authorities as seen here Fri May 13th is up for prisoner exchange for The Merchant of Death Viktor Bout. The deal is up for consideration between the Russian and US governments. (photo from the Toronto Globe and Mail)

On Headline Sports podcast with Tony R:

#1 Tony, could you talk about the chances that you see in a prisoner swap Phoenix Mercury star Brittney Griner for Russia’s The Merchant of Death Viktor Bout?

#2 Griner no doubt is the face of basketball was stopped at the Moscow Airport for alleged drug possession of vape cartridges that contained hashish oil. Griner has been detained in Russia since February. Talk a little about her mental state and how she’s holding up through this process?

#3 Tony NBA playoffs Western Conference Finals are about to tip off starting on Wednesday night at Golden State with the Dallas Mavericks and the Golden State Warriors. All the talk has been about the Mavericks Luka Doncic. Will he be and the Mavericks be enough to get by Golden State in this third round?

#4 The Mavericks had a rather close series against the Phoenix Suns who had the best record in the NBA regular season and overcame adversity with a 4-3 series win. How much of a force would you say Doncic, Spencer Dinwiddie, and Jalen Brunson have been for the Dallas offense?

#5 Turning to the NBA Eastern Conference Finals the Boston Celtics are coming off a best of seven series win over the Milwaukee Bucks and tip off against Jimmy Butler and the Miami Heat in game 1 tonight in Miami.

Join Tony for Headline Sports each Tuesday at