Criticism of Brittney Griner's national anthem stance renewed after Russia drug sentencing

Jeremy Cluff
Arizona Republic
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Corrections & Clarifications: A previous version of this article included an incorrect date for Jeff Metcalfe's interview with Brittney Griner.

In 2020, Phoenix Mercury and WNBA star Brittney Griner told The Arizona Republic that she didn't think the national anthem should be played before WNBA games and she said that she would not be on the floor if it was.

Social media mocked Griner's stance after she was sentenced to nine years in prison after being found guilty and convicted of drug possession and smuggling by a judge in Russia last week.

In that 2020 interview with The Republic, Griner said:

"I honestly feel we should not play the national anthem during our season," Griner said. "I think we should take that much of a stand. 

"I don't mean that in any disrespect to our country. My dad was in Vietnam and a law officer for 30 years. I wanted to be a cop before basketball. I do have pride for my country."

More:Brittney Griner photos from Russian prison a reminder to Arizona basketball fans, everyone

Griner's comments came amid protests throughout the country in the wake of the Breonna Taylor incident and the Black Lives Matter movement.

"I'm going to protest regardless," she told The Republic's Jeff Metcalfe in that interview on July 27, 2020. "I'm not going to be out there for the national anthem. If the league continues to want to play it, that's fine. It will be all season long, I'll not be out there. I feel like more are going to probably do the same thing. I can only speak for myself.

"At the Olympics, I understand, you're playing for your country at that point."

She continued: "I'm glad I'm able to look to my left and to my right at my sisters and see we're all together fighting," Griner said of the WNBA's season-long commitment to social justice issues.

Griner's comments about the national anthem at the time did not go over well with some at the time and critics of those comments did not forget them after the WNBA star was sentenced last week.

Several people, including some conservative commentators, mocked the Mercury star's anthem stance after a Russian judge sentenced her to nine years in prison.

Griner's teammate, Brianna Turner, was also vocal about the national anthem in The Republic story in 2020.

"I personally don't think it belongs in sports," she said. "When the National Anthem deemed the National Anthem (in 1931), Black people didn't have rights at that point. It's hard disrespecting a song that didn't even represent all Americans when it was first made.

"It's not played at Walmart, it's not played when you go to Six Flags. Why is it played before sporting events?"

More:Brittney Griner is not a 'political pawn.' She is a kidnap victim

Brittney Griner made some comments about the National Anthem in 2020 that didn't sit well with some people.

Turner came to Griner's defense on Twitter in the wake of her sentencing, calling out hateful "trolls."

She posted a thread that read: "Thinking of BG and how much light she relentlessly brought to everyone around her. Even after sentencing is complete I hope @POTUS & @WhiteHouse will continue to do everything in their power to bring Brittney Griner & all other Americans detained abroad home.

"I would love to individually respond and annihilate every negative viewpoint I receive but that would be a waste of my time. At the end of the day many people lack compassion & critical thinking skills and it’s not my responsibility to teach that. Respectfully, get a life trolls.

"I don’t have the capacity to respond to every hateful message about Brittney Griner. I think it’s easy to be an outsider and wish the worst. It’s easy to not know all the facts. It’s easy to spread hate on social media. I know many Americans lack compassion due to all the chaos

"that happens regularly in our country. BG is my friend and teammate and one of the kindest people I know. Even before being detained in Russia she would receive hate from trolls bc they didn’t like her looks or what she supported. Yet she continuously held her head high."

In July, Turner posted about the "false narrative" that Griner hated the United States.

"So sick of this false narrative that BG hated the US," Turner tweeted. "Yes there’s an article where we state the anthem should not be played, but she goes on to also say how she has pride for her country. I think it’s patriotic to hold one’s country accountable for atrocious actions."

At the time, she also tweeted out that Griner "has pride for her country."

More:LeBron James clarifies Brittney Griner comments amid backlash: 'Wasn't knocking' America

Reach Jeremy Cluff at jeremy.cluff@arizonarepublic.com. Follow him on Twitter @Jeremy_Cluff.

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