Fueled by Cannabis: Pot-powered Athletes are Focusing on Recovery
Despite strict doping rules that can impact the trajectory of an athlete’s future, many former and current athletes stay active with the assistance of cannabinoids.
Natural processes in every human body, such as the runner’s high, mimic and overlap with the effects of cannabis. In terms of physical fitness, the science suggesting how cannabis can benefit recovery and mental health is overwhelming.
High Times reached out to some former professional athletes who are spreading awareness about the ways that cannabinoids can help aid in the recovery process after exercise and how these compounds can promote mental health when pharmaceuticals fail.
Former NFL running-back-turned-cannabis-advocate Ricky Williams is putting all of his energy into his cannabis-related business endeavors. Why? Because pointless cannabis restrictions in sports almost turned his career upside-down.
Williams won the coveted Heisman Trophy in 1998. He boasts 10,009 rushing yards, 68 rushing touchdowns, 2,606 receiving yards, and eight receiving touchdowns. But despite his accomplishments in the NFL, he was suspended five times during his 11 seasons with the league because of cannabis—and his celebrity notoriety as a toker didn’t help.
Williams missed out on two NFL seasons in his prime because of drug tests. Cannabis is stored in body fat and can linger in the body for weeks if not months. He launched Highsman, a cannabis lifestyle brand created to empower professional and everyday athletes, in October 2021. The company’s name is a play on the Heisman Trophy.
Most recently, Williams collaborated with the popular preroll company Jeeter to launch a new cannabis strain called “Sticky Ricky,” but it’s not the profits he’s after. According to an announcement, 100% of the proceeds from this collaboration with Jeeter are going to Athletes for CARE (A4C) to support mental health initiatives. A4C is a nonprofit organization founded by former athletes including Williams, with a mission to assist fellow athletes with everything from mental to physical health.
Williams revealed some of the reasons he turns to cannabis to help in mental and physical recovery. Lately, he’s been into yoga, meditation and healing, augmented with cannabis.
“Yoga is a major part of my physical routine, and when practicing, cannabis allows me to be more aware of how energy is moving in my body/mind system,” Williams said. “For example, it helps me to feel where there is flow and where there is congestion or a lack of flow.”
Like the “flow state” achieved by cross country runners and endurance sports figures, cannabis can provide a beneficial trance that brings balance.
“This connection allows me to focus my movement in ways that lead to efficiency and ease of movement, which has the added benefit of helping to prevent injuries,” Williams said.
Road racing cyclist and former Tour de France champion Floyd Landis found relief with the help of CBD and other cannabinoids. Among his many decorations, Landis originally won general classification—the main prize—at the 2006 Tour de France, in spite of suffering from osteonecrosis, a disease caused by reduced blood flow to the joints. He powered through and rebounded in stage 17 against all odds. His hip was later replaced with a metal-on-metal hip joint.
Landis then became one of the first to come clean about the widespread doping controversy involving the top endurance road racing cyclists in the world over a decade ago, losing some titles. He was subsequently portrayed by Academy Award-nominated actor Jesse Plemons in the 2015 film The Program.
“Back in 2006, I had a hip replacement as a result of injuries I sustained in bicycle racing a few years before that,” Landis told High Times, acknowledging that the benefit of medical cannabis wasn’t always accepted like it is today, especially in the world of pro sports. “Back then, it was known within small groups but it wasn’t, you know, talked about and widely debated as it is now. And so I was prescribed some narcotics along the way for dealing with pain after the surgery.”
Landis explained that opioids work well for pain—initially. But some people turn to them to forget about their problems, which can lead to full-blown addiction.
“Next thing, you know, it’s a problem in and of itself,” Landis said. “I’ve dealt with that for a couple years. And I kind of discovered marijuana a few years later, as a means to [aid] for whatever reason.”
Throughout his career, Landis didn’t smoke weed, as it wasn’t part of the endurance cycling culture. He wouldn’t discover its medical benefits until later on.
“[Cannabis] also comes with other psychological benefits,” he said. “It helps with anxiety. It helps with the things that probably people are trying to treat with narcotics.”
Organizations such as the World Anti-Doping Agency (WADA) are slowly changing the tune on CBD, which is allowed, and expanding the limits for THC.
“Up until recently, at least, they haven’t considered testing for CBD metabolites and I don’t think they ever will,” Landis said of WADA. “They are focused on THC. And even that’s become deregulated quite a bit.”
Landis also acknowledged the similarities between the runner’s high and cannabis. The phenomenon describes the euphoria caused after a moderate exercise of 20 minutes or more. It is a natural mechanism in our bodies involving the endocannabinoid system, a cell signaling system which promotes balance when it comes to things like motivation and appetite. The experience of the runner’s high is the body feeling the rush of a cannabinoid produced internally as opposed to the cannabinoids produced in the cannabis plant.
“I think a lot of what your body naturally produces, through exercise, are very similar to some of these cannabinoids,” Landis said.“ And so people often augment that with either marijuana or hemp products to kind of enhance the feeling that they get in, you know, at the end of a long run or that for hours afterwards.”
Landis explained that the endurance events he is used to are a bit more extreme, so the runner’s high is accompanied with the shock of a strenuous workout. Endurance athletes are constantly balancing their careers with the effects of exertion from long distances such as inflammation or pain and swelling in the tendons.
Throughout Landis’ career, he attracted a few familiar fans. Robin Williams was among the top followers of endurance cycling and Landis. He even gave Landis a nickname that stuck—“Mofo of the Mountain.”
“He was great,” Landis said. “He got into being a cycling fan, riding his bike a bit, just trying to stay healthy back in, during the time when Lance Armstrong [was riding]. And so he would come, you know, he would come to the Tour de France and join us on the bus after a given stage and tell jokes. And I always kind of envied him. He seemed like he was just naturally high all the time.”
Leadville, Colorado is home to some big endurance sports, such as the Leadville 100, running races, mountain bike races, and so on. In 2018, Landis launched his CBD company Floyd’s of Leadville and is currently debuting a product with CBN, CBG, THC, and CBD.
“We’re always constantly trying to refine which combinations of cannabinoids will do what,” he said.
Josiah Hesse, author of the book Runner’s High: How a Movement of Cannabis-Fueled Athletes Is Changing the Science of Sports, is among the top advocates of cannabis-propelled athleticism. Last September, Hesse spoke to ABC News correspondent Linsey Davis to discuss his book and explain how the runner’s high is linked to the high from cannabis—exposing the phenomenon to a much bigger audience.
“The two—neurologically speaking—are nearly identical,” Hesse told High Times. “What goes on in the brain, when we have the natural runner’s high, as mentioned, is an endogenous cannabinoid. Most researchers point to anandamide, which comes from the Sanskrit word for bliss.”
Hesse explained that humans have engaged with the high associated with an endocannabinoid boost for millions of years. The body’s production of endogenous, or internal cannabinoids like anandamide, reduce pain and increase things like joy and the appreciation of nature. We also get those effects from phytocannabinoids in cannabis. As explained in Hesse’s book, neurologists have data to suggest that THC increases the production of anandamide, so it is believed to get you to the runner’s high more quickly and efficiently.
“The percentage of people who are exercising—who knows what percentage of them enjoy it,” Hesse said. “Throughout the process of promoting this book effort, so many people talked about how much they hate exercise, but that they do it anyway. So it’s an even smaller fraction who are doing it as a playful, enjoyable recreational activity. So what cannabis can do is induce that natural evolutionary reward system for enjoying exercise quicker and faster.”
Research indicates that you need to get over a certain hump to achieve the runner’s high.
“It’s typically running at around 70% heart rate for 20 to 30 minutes,” Hesse said. “Most people don’t get there—they either go too fast or they go too slow and never get there. Either way, most people hate getting to that point.”
Hesse said a moderate dose of cannabis can be a way for people to achieve that euphoria faster and more efficiently. He said that he personally never had any interest in sports, and very little interest in exercise—that is, until he started prepping with cannabis edibles.
In sports organizations like the NBA, cannabis use is everywhere. Former Chicago Bulls No. 2 pick Jay Williams told Jade Sciponi of FoxBusiness in 2016 that 75 to 80% of NBA players smoke cannabis.
“I found out that [cannabis use in sports] is so popular, yet so under-reported,” Hesse said. “I couldn’t ignore it as a journalist.”
The World Anti-Doping Agency removed CBD from the list of banned substances in 2018 and raised the threshold of THC up to 120 nanograms, which allows athletes to utilize cannabis during training and then stop a week or two before competition. THC metabolites are typically out of the system by then, but the Mayo Clinic cites that they can be detected for as long as 46 days after consumption.
“I don’t think it qualifies as a performance-enhancing drug in the way that we think we understand that term, which is in relation to competition,” Hesse said.
The purpose of strict doping rules is to abate the use of banned substances like steroids, which can make competitive situations unfair.
“That’s not going to happen with cannabis. It’s not going to make your muscles stronger. It’s not going to make your blood more efficient,” Hesse said.
Entrepreneur, founder, advocate, and former NFL star Eben Britton’s book, The Eben Flow, is a compendium of experiences and insights exploring his transformation from pro sports to his recent focus on wellness. It’s a fascinating read incorporating various tracts of health practices from all corners of the world and a testament to Britton’s devotion to health and wellbeing.
Trauma and the NFL are synonymous, given the brutal nature of the sport. After six seasons of professional football, four years with the Jacksonville Jaguars followed by two with the Chicago Bears, Britton was “physically, mentally, and emotionally destroyed.”
Fortunately, the alternative ways cannabis can help played a major part in his mental and physical recovery.
“My relationship with cannabis has evolved greatly over the last few years,” Britton told High Times. “While it is still an integral part of my daily routine I use it in a much different capacity today compared to how I used it during my career.”
Britton is also currently focused on practices involving yoga, as well as breathing and meditation. Ayurvedic medicine is also part of the new ways Britton is incorporating alternative therapies.
“In Ayurveda, cannabis is known as a ‘trauma reducer’ and it was exactly this during my NFL career,” Britton said. “When I was taking on significant physical damage, as well as emotional and mental stress, cannabis was my saving grace. Something I could come home to that would quell my rattled nervous system, decompress my mental and physical body, allowing me to rest and recover.”
Britton admitted in 2016 that he consumed weed before three NFL games he played in. Finding alternatives to prescription drugs is a big part of the message he wants to convey in his book.
“Over the last five years, as I have healed many of the wounds that plagued me during my career, cannabis has taken on a much different role,” Britton said. “I primarily use CBD for mental clarity and inflammation, consuming much less THC than I ever have, saving my whole-plant cannabis consumption for after a sunset to prepare me for a restful night of sleep.”
After retiring from professional sports, Britton co-hosted over 50 episodes of the Hotboxin’ with Mike Tyson podcast before producing and hosting his own podcast, The Eben Flow. He also co-founded the community-based athlete advocacy association Athletes for CARE, and sits on the advisory board of Wake Network, a psilocybin research and development company. Last year, Britton joined the Revenant MJ cannabis brand in California founded by NFL brethren Kyle Turley and Jim McMahol, as partner and spokesperson.
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Runtz Brings Its Iconic Strain to the Masses
Since 2017, the global phenomenon that is the Runtz strain has not abated. The brand has remained strong, but this year, newly independent, Runtz is relaunching as a top-tier luxury weed lifestyle brand, with all new Runtz genetics plus the classic strains available in multiple states. More people can finally say that they have smoked real Runtz.
The Runtz phenomenon started at Emerald Cup 2017 in Northern California. Ray Bama and Yung LB got hold of Runtz and started to market it online using social media. Grower Nick Corwin eventually met Ray Bama in the Bay Area through Friends. LB, Ray’s roommate, was an up-and-coming rapper and an informal weed ambassador for Cookies—aka one of the Cookie Boys. Nick discovered Runtz when he combined Zkittlez with Gelato 33, creating a dark purple flower with a distinct candy terp profile. They knew they had something, and they went with the Runtz name to capture that candy terp.
“When Runtz first came out it was the darkest thing and then when you opened the bag everyone would say candy,” Ray remembers. “At that point there wasn’t really a terp like that besides Zkittlez. But with Zkittlez, the exhale wasn’t quite as candy, as creamy,” Ray says. Nick says that the Gelato 33 upped the Zkittlez potency and added even more of a candy profile.
The three showed up at Emerald Cup with a little over 300 jars, along with 2,500 Runtz t-shirts to hand out and a group of models rocking the Runtz logo. They camped out in front of the Cookies booth (it was the year Cookies debuted London Pound Cake) where a line formed around them. They sold out in minutes, getting so much attention that Cookies asked them to leave. But Berner took notice, and Cookies would eventually become Runtz’s exclusive distributor.
“We made a whole appearance in letting people know who we are and we’re here. And that impacted the fuck out the culture,” LB remembers.
The same excitement and hype of that day kept its momentum over the next year. However, how the strain and brand (what LB calls a “strand”) became the phenomenon that it did, spreading all across the U.S. to hotspots like New York, Atlanta, and Miami, was not merely organic. Ray and LB worked out a sophisticated multi-pronged approach to branding the strain as a lifestyle. They went on tour, doing pop-ups city by city, everywhere drawing a crowd around this new thing from California called Exotics.
In particular, LB became the face of the brand, and he wove his identity as a weed mogul into his hip-hop singles and his social media. Meanwhile, Nick and Ray reached out to artists, creatives, people in fashion, and musicians, and built a network of culture-makers and content producers. Within a year, they saw Runtz take off. Everyone was talking about it. Everyone wanted it. Everyone claimed to have it.
“We weren’t trying to follow the trend. We weren’t too much caring about the politics behind weed,” LB said. He was trapping weed at the time and saw that the industry was expanding.
“It’s enough for everybody to eat off this plate. You’d be a fool not to capitalize,” LB said.
LB went hard at marketing and promoting Runtz as he toured with his music. As he went around the country, he put on events to raise the brand’s profile, despite the risks.
“These other weed brands, they weren’t doing the sessions and pop-ups that we were doing,” LB said. “We were taking a big risk doing that,” he said, considering most states still considered weed to be illegal.
“We brought that gorilla marketing to the corporate cannabis world,” LB said. “It had never been done before besides Berner. But Berner had a strategic classic high-end way to do it. We just kept this shit so urban, so close to the culture, it’s like one of them was doing it,” LB said.
Runtz became the phenomena that it is because, LB and Ray say, of the work they put into promoting and marketing the strain.
“We just love working. We ain’t better than nobody but we gonna hustle. I guarantee I’ll hustle a lot of these other people,” LB said. “We started getting that recognition.”
Are You Smoking Real Runtz?
Even as the hype built, Runtz was kept exclusive and relatively small-batch. The demand for Runtz in the country far outweighed its supply, and plenty of bootleggers stepped in to fill the lack with fake bags of fake Runtz. Meanwhile, growers that did get hold of Runtz genetics (which wasn’t hard—the guys made a point to spread the genetics far and wide) all too often renamed it and built their own following off of it.
Ray says getting bootlegged, copied, and ripped off was just part of the game.
“To this day if you go buy ten eighths from any dispensary or ten eighths from the street, nine of them are going to be Runtz. Runtz is the most renamed strain, the most bootlegged,” he said.
But to an extent, it was on purpose.
“We’ve constantly hunted and serviced the top one percent of the market and we’ve pigeonholed ourselves there because we never really expanded as far as we could,” Ray said. “We kept our releases very small.”
Ray, LB, and Nick were powerless to stop the brand from getting bootlegged. They saw ugly imitations of their iconic mylar bags for sale in smoke shops all over the U.S. and Europe. To handle their growth, they contracted with a much larger corporation in California to take on marketing and distribution, but found that they were even more hamstrung by not having full ownership of the brand.
“Just being on the road built Runtz so huge, that I didn’t know how big it was until I got to Atlanta in 2018-2019. Everywhere I went everybody said they had Runtz. But they didn’t get it from us,” LB said.
“I used to get mad and upset, but for what? It helped the brand out,” LB said.
The fact is, the guys couldn’t supply the demand for the strain. They developed other phenos to help make more product available, and partnered with regional growers to help suppy the rest of the country outside of California.
“The demand was so high it wasn’t enough,” he said.
For a time, everybody supposedly had Runtz and almost nobody smoked real Runtz. The guys had created a movement that they no longer were in control of. Still, they never stopped promoting Runtz, which had sprung a corresponding clothing and lifestyle brand. They continued to release Runtz phenos and crosses, each one cleverly marketed with stylish mylar bags plus whatever media LB cooked up.
Ray says that they tolerated people copying them. They understood that they were trendsetters.
“We never hated on anybody. People stole our sauce, they steal our sauce to this day, blatantly. And we’ll be like, as long as you’re feeding your family we don’t start shit with people,” Ray said.
“We actually do it for the culture,” he said.
Being copied just inspired them to be more innovative.
“The way we combated that bootlegging is by constantly releasing new products, new product identity, new IP, just always releasing new stuff and they can’t keep up with us,” Ray said.
In 2020, rumors of a strain called Obama Runtz circulated, and a video by a Atlanta trapper talking about it went viral. The team jumped on the viral moment and launched an Obama Runtz strain with a corresponding song and music video referencing the viral video. They later had another viral hit when they released Coochie Runtz in a die-cut mylar bag in the shape of a cropped photo of the midsection a big-bootied woman in a thong, one image of her front and one image of her back on either side of the bag. The photo was unrefined and unabashed and definitely attention-grabbing. Runtz marketing is often this mix of media savvy and a focus on the culture around weed instead of just the weed itself.
Courtesy of Ray Bama
They’ve spent years planning, growing, breeding, and making deals for the next phase of Runtz.
“We’ve been the disruptors of the industry,” Nick says. “We’ve done it multiple times and we’re going to continue to do it.”
They disrupt and they start trends. Even before Runtz, Ray invented the GlowTray, a rolling tray with a built-in light that was a phenomenon for years. He and Nick manufactured, marketed, and distributed the GlowTray themselves. Runtz kicked off the trend of using mylar bags instead of jars, which at the time everyone had preferred. Potato Runtz, a collab with designer Imran Potato, together they were the first to create a special shape die-cut mylar pouch (bags that are cut into a shape rather than square), which are now very trendy. They claim they were the first to do things like pop-ups and tours to promote their strain, which by now has become a common tactic in the industry for indie brands.
Their next disruption will take place in smoke shops across America with the launch of Runtz brand tobacco leaf blunt wraps. They noticed that everyone around them were rolling their high-end Runtz weed into crappy Backwoods leaves, half of which from each package had to be tossed for being unusable.
“We want to push the culture forward. We don’t want our people to go buy Backwoods and throw away half,” Ray said. “The weed is so good and expensive and you put it in the Backwoods and it rips or has two stems.”
They talked to some friends in the tobacco industry and ended up traveling to the Dominican Republic to survey tobacco farms. They sampled twenty varieties before going with the Broadleaf. They hand-selected the bales, which each undergo a 5-step sorting process for quality control. Each leaf is washed, trimmed, and pressed so that it’s perfect for rolling a blunt. They’ll launch next month in 4,500 shops across the country.
At the recent Hall of Flowers convention Runtz debuted its first new strains since last year’s Coochie Runts: Bootleg Runtz, Day Day Runtz, iRuntz, Super Runtz, a collab with indie brand Don Merfos Exotics, and FTP Runtz, a collab with the clothing brand. Early next year, they’ll introduce a Classics line, with their most popular strains made widely available at an affordable price, including strains that haven’t been available in a while like Divine Runtz, Pink Runtz, White Runtz, Real Runtz, Obama Runtz, and Runtz OG.
They’ve also been working hard to build a network of growers and dispensaries in states outside of California to grow and distribute actual Runtz flower. The plan is to be able to launch new drops simultaneously in California as well as states like Florida and Michigan. In California, they’re continuing to pheno hunt their own genetics by collaborating with top brands like Wizard Trees, Doja Pak, and Seed Junky Genetics. They’ll also be selling Runtz seeds in smoke shops.
For Nick, Ray, and LB, the Runtz relaunch is about solidifying their place as a high-fashion, high-art, luxury brand. They’re relaunching their streetwear clothing line with Pharrell’s Billionaire Boys Club, they’re looking into doing a Runtz restaurant, and they’re planning a Runtz festival for 2024.
“LB always told us, Nick, Ray, we’re the Louis Vuitton of cannabis,” Ray said. “They’re wearing Louis Vuitton and Gucci and they’re smoking Runtz.”
For LB, the fact that the brand has made such waves while still being relatively new to the scene is something he doesn’t take for granted.
“For us to have a seat at the table with a lot of these top-tier names is an honor,” LB said.
He’s learned that the art of selling weed in today’s market comes down to marketing a lifestyle. It’s what the Runtz brand does better than anyone.
“It’s not even about selling the flower. Just even knowing how to brand a product to a level where people want it so much to where it’s like we’ll buy the brand overall,” LB said.
“That’s crazy to me to be honest. And it’s amazing. Just to be one of the brands that’s top-tier as far as even being around the top, top people is just an honor. Runtz is new, we’ve been on the scene probably 4-5 years, so we’re literally new,” LB said.
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Chris Webber launches ‘Players Only’
Chris Webber, a member of the NBA Hall of Fame, and Lavetta Willis, an entrepreneur, have announced the launch of their cannabis brand, Players Only, and they have recruited other famous people to help promote it.
The new superstar label was unveiled for the first time on August 11. The store, which will be called “Players Only,” will sell weed of many different varieties, as well as vape pens, pre-rolled joints, and other sports recovery and performance aids. Players Only is also releasing a line of branded clothing and shoes.
By acquiring Gage Growth Corp in March, TerrAscend became the sole distributor of Players Only products in Michigan, clearing the door for the launch of the brand.
Webber argued that “Players Only” was more than just a cannabis company. “We really do have a once-in-a-generation chance to alter the cannabis narrative, encourage budding business owners, and establish a new benchmark for this dynamic sector. We are excited to introduce our diverse products and services and get started on the path toward bringing about lasting economic improvement in neighborhoods all around Michigan. We want to give a shout out to our Michigan relatives, TerrAscend and Gage. Take care, Berner and Cookies; we’re leaving.
Webber announced a Detroit marijuana complex in October 2017 that included a grow room, dispensary, and VIP smoking area. The Players Only facility, which is 180,000 square feet in size, is known as the Webber Wellness Compound.
C4, Time Out, G.O.A.T.’s Milk, Non-Laters, and Whipped Cherries are among the first strains to hit the market. Within a matter of weeks, new strains from the brand, such as Blueberry Hotcakes and Ray Jackson’s Black Sox, will be available for purchase. In comparison to the hashy, Afghani vibe that C4 can give off, reviewers agree that the sativa-leaning G.O.A.T.’s Milk has an optimal ratio of THC to CBD. On the other hand, whipped cherries are just how you’d imagine them to be.
Lavetta Willis, co-founder and President of Players Only, said, “We have been working with legacy cultivators and operators wanting to establish their place in the regulated market for quite some time.” Incorporating legacy strains and expertise into the Players Only platform and menu helps us move closer to our ultimate goal of recognizing and celebrating the contributions of black business owners who have built successful brands and intellectual assets throughout the years.
Compliments of the Chef and Raekwon’s collaboration with Citizen Grown were both revealed alongside the collaboration with the company. Similarly, Hassim Robinson and Winner’s Circle Genetics have teamed up to introduce the PB&J strain and Quavo’s BIRKINZ to the Michigan cannabis market. Detroit native Royce da 5’9′′ will release his “Heaven” label as part of a network of free trade zones (NFT), and the “Lil Stupid” brand, which has been around for a while, will enter the adult-use market for the first time. White Chocolate will also be introduced by Webber’s former colleague on the Sacramento Kings, Jason Williams.
Along with starting “The Smoke” with business partner and co-host Stephen Jackson, Webber recently hired former NBA great and teammate Matt Barnes as Chief Collaborations Officer. The name of the product is a reference to the critically acclaimed SHOWTIME series created by Barnes and Jackson.
In their podcast, “All the Smoke,” “the loud and unapologetic NBA champions, give authentic, unvarnished viewpoint on the most polarizing themes in and outside the game of basketball, including culture, social justice, politics, music, and more.”
New episodes of “All the Smoke” are released weekly on Thursdays.
Starting with the Players Only x Packwoods 2.5-gram Blunt, available at select retailers, the brand will be introduced to the public.
LeBron James Calls for Brittney Griner’s Release from Russian Prison
NBA superstar LeBron James on Sunday called on the U.S. government to work to secure the release of WNBA champion and Olympic basketball gold medalist Brittney Griner, who has been held in a Russian prison on a cannabis possession charge for nearly four months.
“We need to come together and help do whatever we possibly can to bring BG home quickly and safely!! Our voice as athletes is stronger together,” James wrote on Twitter over the weekend.
James also shared a message from his brand Uninterrupted that calls on President Joe Biden and Vice President Kamala Harris to work for Griner’s release. The post also encouraged readers to learn more about the case online.
“For over 100 days, BG has faced inhumane conditions in a Russian prison and has been denied communications with her family and loved ones,” reads a message from Uninterrupted that was included in the social media post. “As a decorated Olympian and member of an elite global sport community, BG’s detention must be resolved out of respect for the sanctity of all sport and for all Americans traveling internationally. It is imperative that the U.S. Government immediately address this human rights issue and do whatever is necessary to return Brittney home.”
James also posted a link to an online petition hosted by Change.org that maintains that “Griner is a beloved global citizen who has used her platform since her entry into the WNBA to help others.” James encouraged fans to share and sign the petition, which had collected more than 250,000 signatures as of Tuesday.
Olympic and WNBA Superstar
Griner is a seven-time WNBA All-Star center who has played for the Phoenix Mercury since 2013, including the team’s 2014 league championship squad. She has also twice won the Olympic gold medal with the U.S. women’s basketball team.
Griner has played seven seasons of professional basketball in Russia during the winter, a common practice among WNBA players. She earns about $1 million per season to play in Russia, about four times the salary she earns playing for the WNBA. On January 29, Griner played her most recent game with her team UMMC Ekaterinburg before the Russian league took a two-week break for the FIBA World Cup qualifying tournaments.
The Russian Customs Service reported on March 5 that an American women’s basketball player had been detained after cannabis vape cartridges were discovered in her luggage at the Sheremetyevo airport near Moscow. The date of the arrest was not given and Griner was not named in the report. The customs also released a video that appeared to show Griner with security officials at an airport security checkpoint.
The Russian state news agency TASS subsequently reported that the arrested player was Griner. Although the date of Griner’s arrest was not announced, media outlets reported that she has been in custody since February 17. After news of the arrest made headlines, the WNBA and the players’ union issued messages of support for the star athlete.
“Brittney Griner has the WNBA’s full support, and our main priority is her swift and safe return to the United States,” the league wrote in a statement after Griner’s arrest was announced by Russian media.
Griner’s arrest by Russian authorities has led to an outcry from lawmakers, cannabis advocates, celebrities, and fellow athletes. Democratic Representative Colin Allred of Texas, the star athlete’s home state, said on March 9 that he was looking into Griner’s arrest.
“My office has been in touch with the State Department, and we’re working with them to see what is the best way forward,” said Allred, as quoted by ESPN. “I know the administration is working hard to try and get access to her and try to be helpful here. But obviously, it’s also happening in the context of really strained relations. I do think that it’s really unusual that we’ve not been granted access to her from our embassy and our consular services.”
A month after her arrest, Russian authorities announced that Griner’s detention would be extended for two months. TASS reported on March 17 that Griner was being held in an undisclosed Russian prison pending further investigation of the case. The news agency also said that Ekaterina Kalugina of the human rights group Public Monitoring Commission, a quasi-official body with access to Russian prisons, had visited Griner. Kalugina reported that Griner was doing well and being held in humane conditions.
In May, the U.S. Department of State reclassified Griner’s status, saying that she had been “wrongfully detained” by the Russian government.
“The Department of State has determined that the Russian Federation has wrongfully detained U.S. citizen Brittney Griner,” the State Department wrote in an email to ESPN. “With this determination, the Special Presidential Envoy for Hostage Affairs Roger Carstens will lead the interagency team for securing Brittney Griner’s release.”
Since then, however, the status of Griner’s case has remained unchanged, prompting the renewed calls for her release from James on Sunday.
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