In Eric Mann, Film and Book Club, The Labor Community Strategy Center

Russian President Vladimir Putin

U.S. President Joe Biden

Free Brittney Griner Now!

By Eric Mann

Dear President Putin,

It is outrageous that you have imprisoned WNBA basketball player, Black woman, U.S citizen, and player for your Russian teams, Brittney Griner on trumped up charges of possession of marijuana and held her in prison since February 17, 2022. This is a clear violation of her civil and human rights, as well as a moral, tactical, and strategic catastrophe for you. Admit your mistake and free her now. It is wrong to kidnap Ms. Greiner and use her as  pawn for a possible exchange of prisoners. Ms. Griner is not a spy but a friend of Russia who you have cruelly terrified, imprisoned, and persecuted. Free Brittney Griner now.

Why was Ms. Griner in Russia? Because she is a women’s basketball superstar so underpaid in the U.S. by the Women’s National Basketball Association (where the highest men’s salary is $47 million a year and women’s $225,000).  That inequality encourages her and other WNBA stars to play with Russian teams in the off-season to supplement her income. Ms. Griner has played in Russia for the last seven years, “earning over $1 million per season—more than quadruple her WNBA salary.” Russia is treating professional women’s basketball players better financially than they are treated in the US, and in turn they are choosing to play in your country. And yet, Ms. Griner is consistently denied consular access and is facing inhumane conditions, being denied communication with her friends, family and loved ones. This is cruel and inhuman punishment on top of the kidnapping that is the core of the problem.  it is outrageous that you would persecute her. Free Britney Griner now.

Ms. Griner plays professionally in the U.S. with the Phoenix Mercury and in Russia with UMCC Ekaterinburg. She is the only NCAA basketball player to both score 2,000 points and block 500 shots. In 2012, the three-time All-American was named the AP Player of the Year and the Most Outstanding Player of the Final Four. Ms. Griner led the 2016 United States women’s Olympic team to victory at the Rio Olympics. Now, Ms. Griner is a prisoner in your country; a Black, gay, woman whose rights you are violating.

President Vladimir Putin, Free Brittney Griner Now!

Dear President Biden,

You have been criticized by Black athletes, human rights fighters, and people all over the world for your weak and ineffective efforts to negotiate with Vladimir Putin for the release off Brittney Griner. You and NATO have provoked the Russia/Ukraine conflict as a proxy was by the U.S. You have made it clear that the U.S. cannot live in a multi-polar world. Your intent is to encircle and destroy Russia. You have refused to use your good offices to address Russia’s legitimate security concerns and have provoked President Putin with the language of an out-of-control tyrant. “For God’s sake, this man cannot remain in power” “war criminal” You have called the president of Russia, “a butcher, who cannot remain in power.” That was not a slip of the tongue but part of a larger strategy, for when the U.S. has any strategic disagreement with a foreign country it calls for “regime change.” No wonder you can’t and won’t negotiate to free Brittney Griner, that would indicate that the Russian president is human being with whom you can negotiate and undermine your rationale for the bloody was in the Ukraine that you want to go on as long as possible to “weaken Russia.”

Please heed the advice of French President Emmanuelle Macron, “If we want to achieve a cease fire and then total withdrawal of Russian troops by diplomatic means we wouldn’t use such words.” Macron criticizes you by saying, “We can’t escalate either in words or actions.” But that is the problem: you do not want to recognize the legitimacy of Russia’s fears and do not want to negotiate. You inflame the situation because you do not want to negotiate or seek a compromise with Russia. But by pursuing this strategy, you jeopardize the life of Britney Griner. No wonder Lebron James said “Now, how can she feel like America has her back?” I would be feeling like, Do I even wanna go back to America?

Black people and Black athletes have been the conscience of an unconscionable U.S. No wonder Brittney Griner, along with her teammate Brianna Turner, called for the WNBA to stop playing the United States national anthem before games. She made her remarks after Mercury players refused to take the floor during a pre-season game in Bradenton, Florida. Griner said she was protesting the killing of Breonna Taylor as part of the wider George Floyd protests. She said she does not believe that the national anthem should be played at sporting events.

President Biden, are you punishing Brittney Griner for protesting the police murders of Breonna Taylor and George Floyd while you pledge, “I will not defund the police?” Are you refusing to negotiate her release to advance your war objectives against Russia and to punish Black athletes for standing up for their civil rights? We need members of the Senate and House to openly demand the release of Brittney Griner and call for a de-escalation of U.S. weapons and war hawking in the Ukraine. Sadly, Brittney Griner is being use by both Russian president Vladimir Putin and U.S. President Joe Biden—but as we live in the U.S., it is on President Biden’s crimes that should focus our protests.

President Putin. At a time when many of us in the U.S. peace movement believe you have legitimate concerns about the Ukraine, what could have possessed you to provoke anger and outrage by inflicting these arbitrary and racist policies against Ms. Griner. You must release her now and apologize to the Black community in the U.S. and to the international human rights movement.

Given the courageous support many Black people in the U.S. gave to the Soviet Union and continue to give to Russia’s right to sovereignty at great cost to themselves, your holding Brittney Griner hostage is a human rights atrocity. Someone must break this ugly stalemate. This is your call. You do not need to exchange Brittney Griner for anything but your own conscience. Releasing Ms. Griner immediately will be both a symbolic gesture—but very real to her and her family—and an opportunity to look in the mirror and question the broader repressive policies in your own country.

To the civil rights, human rights, and anti-war movements.  If you find this article helpful, please circulate and or use your own words. Our organization, the Labor/Community Strategy Center would like to work with any and all forces working to free Brittney Briner. Brittney Griner must be and will be free.


Eric Mann

is a veteran of the Congress of Racial Equality and the Newark Community Union Project where he worked closely with the Student Non-Violent Coordinating Committee and the Mississippi Freedom Democratic Party. His story is on the Civil Rights Movement Veterans website ( He is presently director of the Labor/Community Strategy Center in South Central Los Angeles working at the Strategy and Soul Movement Center. He and Channing Martinez co-host Voices from the Frontlines—Your National Movement Building Show on KPFK Pacifica in Los Angeles. He is the author of Playbook for Progressives: The 16 Qualities of the Successful Organizer. He welcomes comments at