Brittney Griner represents everything Putin despises. We should all be worried for her safety | Opinion

I don't know if WNBA star Brittney Griner's detaining in Russia is legitimate (though I doubt it). I don't know if I should believe anything the Russian authorities say (though why would you). I don't know if Russia is using Griner as a pawn (though that wouldn't be shocking).

I can't speak with great authority about any of that, but there's one thing that's certain in this infuriating and frightening moment involving one of America's great athletes, a two-time Olympic gold medalist, and seven-time All-Star with the Phoenix Mercury, and it is this:

Griner represents everything the white nationalist, Vladimir Putin-led Russian government despises. She's Black. She's proudly queer. She's American.

You can forgive anyone who believes that Griner's arrest is a piece of targeted propaganda aimed at a particular group of people in the United States, namely, Black people. That's because Putin has done it before.

The report from Robert Mueller showed that in 2016 Putin interfered in the American election. Russia has spent numerous instances attempting to stoke racial divisions in this country. In fact, the Russians have done this multiple times since 2016.

Putin knows us. In many ways, better than a significant swath of Americans want to admit. He knows our divisions are extensive and there's a thin line between harmony and chaos.

Griner, to me, is another part of Putin's attempt to weave dissent. She is a cherished and high-profile figure in the Black and LGBTQ community.

Brittney Griner (15) handles the ball against Serbia center Tina Krajisnik (33) in the women's basketball semifinal during the Tokyo 2020 Olympics at Saitama Super Arena.
Brittney Griner (15) handles the ball against Serbia center Tina Krajisnik (33) in the women's basketball semifinal during the Tokyo 2020 Olympics at Saitama Super Arena.

"The Brittney Griner detention in Russia is a genuinely frightening escalation," said MSNBC host Joy-Ann Reid.

"But how IS Brittney Griner?" asked journalist Errin Haines. "Is she safe? Is she scared? When will she be released? Why is this just coming out? What is her government doing to help?"

Evelyn Farkas told Yahoo Sports that Russia may want Griner as a "high-profile hostage."

"If we want her out of jail, Russia is going to have some terms," Farkas, who served as the U.S. Deputy Assistant Secretary of Defense for Russia and Ukraine from 2012-15, told Yahoo Sports. "It could be a prisoner swap. They also could use it as an implicit threat or blackmail to get us to do something or not do something. Either way, they find it useful."

The Independent newspaper quoted experts who also believe that what Russia is doing goes beyond the allegations against Griner.

"I hate to say this, but we are not going to see Brittney Griner for a while," tweeted University of Pennsylvania religious studies professor Dr. Anthea Butler. "Whether she had vape pens or not, this is a power play by Russia, and expect more of this as this war with Ukraine goes on."

"A Black queer woman has been held in Russia for almost a month," wrote trans writer and activist Raquel Willis. "This is scary as hell. It’s unfortunate that Brittney Griner has become a major pawn in world leaders’ quest for domination."

Is it possible Griner broke the law, and law enforcement there is simply acting as it would with any other person? Yes, it's possible. It's just not believable.

The hope is that this situation is resolved soon. The hope is that this is some type of misunderstanding. The hope is that Griner is at least safe.

That's the hope. That's the deep in my bones hope.

The fear is that Russia believes it has some type of bargaining tool in Griner, and they will use her that way. They won't see her as she really is ... a human being.

This article originally appeared on USA TODAY: Brittney Griner's arrest in Russia raises worries about Putin's intent