5 Takeaways From Joy Reid’s Interview With Brittney Griner

By Ethan Alter 

Brittney Griner‘s Coming Home book tour brought her to The ReidOut this week for the WNBA star’s first cable news interview since her 2022 release from a Russian prison. Host Joy Reid sat down with Griner for the two-part conversation about her new memoir, which aired on Monday and Tuesday. Here are TVNewser’s five takeaways from their emotional interview.

Griner still blames herself 

Griner’s detention began in February 2022 when customs officials at the Sheremetyevo International Airport in Moscow discovered cannabis oil cartridges in her luggage. Pressed to sign a document entirely in Russian without the assistance of a translator or lawyer, Griner was taken into custody and eventually charged with possession of illegal drugs. As she told Reid, to this day she blames herself for not more carefully checking her bags before landing in Moscow.

“You take ownership of what happens, regardless of if you meant to do it,” Griner said, “That’s something my dad instilled in me and that’s something I’ll always have. Regardless of the situation, I still say it’s my fault. I felt like I brought a tarnish to our last name a little bit.”


Griner went on to say that everyone else in her life has made a point of telling her she’s not at fault—a list that now includes Reid, who similarly insisted she’s not to blame. “Everyone tells me, ‘Give yourself grace,'” Griner remarked. “It’s so hard to give yourself grace, though, for someone like me.”

But she also thinks that she was deliberately targeted

While the presence of the cartridges in her luggage was an accident, Griner is convinced that her airport detention was carefully stage-managed.

“I wholeheartedly believe that,” she said when asked by Reid if she thinks Russian authorities targeted her upon her arrival in Moscow. “How I was singled out to come over when there was a flood of people walking through [customs] not being scanned. I saw the people who were getting asked to come to the side. They knew I was coming through.”

The Ukraine invasion was a gamechanger

Initially, Griner hoped that the American government could expedite her release. But 10 days into her confinement, Russia invaded Ukraine and the calculus changed overnight.

“That changed everything,” she told Reid. “Any sliver of hope that I had that we could come to some kind of agreement or a trade or something quietly, that all went out the window. When they invaded… I was like, ‘Well, I need to get prepared for the long haul.'”

Griner also fully anticipated that Russian president Vladimir Putin would use her as a bargaining chip as the war continued, and that was borne out in the way she was treated in prison. “I already knew that there were little things going on,” she remembered. “The top guard was always there. The warden, the deputy warden was always there. I knew that there was some special treatment. ‘Let’s keep her good for right now for later on.'”

Joy Reid talks with Brittney Griner in a two-part MSNBC interview. (Courtesy MSNBC)

Pleading guilty was the rational approach 

Even as the State Department and other U.S. officials encouraged her to maintain her innocence in court, Griner says she ultimately followed the advice of someone closer—her wife, Cherelle Griner, who felt that a guilty plea would help with an eventual prisoner trade. “To be traded, even if you plead ‘not guilty’ you have to reverse that,” Griner said, explaining the rationale behind her wife’s consul. “You have to sign a paper saying that you’re guilty.”

“It goes back to how I was raised,” she added, referring to the lessons about “ownership” she learned from her father. “I did not [do this]—I made sure to say that when I plead guilty—but taking ownership for my actions as much as I didn’t mean to do this and it was an accident.”

She doesn’t think that a male player would have been imprisoned

Discussing the public reaction to Griner’s imprisonment, Reid noted the oft-expressed opinion that a male NBA star almost certainly wouldn’t have experienced the same treatment. And Griner agreed that her gender was not only at the root of her plight, but also the reason for her being in Russia to begin with. “We are the only ones that literally have to go overseas to close that pay gap,” she said, referring to the well-known salary disparity between the NBA and the WNBA. “I went from China over to Russia because they offered me the most. And that’s where I was able to make a living for my family.”

Reid specifically referenced LeBron Jameswho criticized American efforts to bring her home on his podcast, although those comments also received criticism—as an example of an NBA star that Russian players would likely have let go free. “I don’t want to say different player names,” Griner replied. “But it could have been way different. They probably would have asked for an autograph… and it would have been a different outcome.”