Reaction to Brittney Griner's release from a Russian penal colony is mixed

Published: Friday, December 9, 2022 - 2:47pm
Updated: Friday, December 9, 2022 - 3:25pm

Former Phoenix Suns star Charles Barkley weighed in on the release of Phoenix Mercury standout Brittney Griner, who returned home this week after being discharged from a Russian penal colony.

Speaking to CNN, Barkley said her release marks a great day for her and her family. But he expressed concern about former Marine Paul Whelan, who remains detained in Russia — and about the prisoner swap for arms dealer Viktor Bout.

“On one hand, I’m really, really happy for our NBA and WNBA family, but man you got to feel for Mr. Whelan. He’s been there for four years. But also, man, we let a scumbag back out on the street,” said Barkley.  

Bout was the subject of the 2005 film “Lord of War,” a biopic starring Nicolas Cage.

Whelan was arrested in Russia in 2018 and accused of spying. In 2020, he received a 16-year prison sentence. He expressed disappointment at not being included in the prisoner exchange that led to Griner’s release.

But ASU law professor Valena Beety says the outcome could still help Whelan, even though their cases are hard to compare. Griner was detained on charges of drug possession, while Whelan was charged with espionage.

"Even though he remains imprisoned in Russia, the hope is that this has brought more attention to his situation," Beety said. 

Beety added that Griner’s trade for Bout raises concerns, as he could become a figure in the war with Ukraine.

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