1972 also saw the passage of monumental bipartisan legislation. On June 23, 1972, President Nixon signed Title IX, the law best known for promoting gender equity in athletics and preventing sexual harassment on campuses. These are Title IX's 37 words: “No person in the United States shall, on the basis of sex, be excluded from participation in, be denied the benefits of, or be subjected to discrimination under any education program or activity receiving Federal financial assistance.” The law's impact—opening doors and removing barriers for girls and women—cannot be overstated.
For context, in 1970, just 59% of women in our country graduated from high school, and just 8% had college degrees. And there were just over 300,000 women and girls playing college and high school sports in the United States. Today that number exceeds 3.6 million.
The impact of Title IX stretches into professional sports as well. More opportunities have emerged for young women to turn their sport into their careers, particularly in the WNBA.
One such woman is Brittney Griner. Ms. Griner plays for the Phoenix Mercury in the WNBA. Like many WNBA players, she also plays overseas during the offseason. For the last few seasons, Ms. Griner has played for a team in the Russian league. On the eve of Russia's invasion of Ukraine, Ms. Griner was arrested at a Moscow airport. Russian authorities claimed she had hashish vaporizer cartridges in her luggage and accused her of smuggling significant amounts of a narcotic substance, an offense punishable by up to 10 years in prison. Curiously, Russian authorities only announced her arrest after the invasion occurred.
Russia has detained Ms. Griner since her arrest. The U.S. State Department has classified Ms. Griner as “wrongfully detained,” which sparked a growing movement for the player’s release led by her wife, Cherelle Griner. Her "trial" is scheduled to start this Friday.
But we'll see. Brian Whitmore, a nonresident senior fellow at the Atlantic Council’s Eurasia Center and an assistant professor at the University of Texas Arlington, characterized Griner’s detainment as “a hostage situation” and her trial as an exercise in “political theater” designed to pressure the U.S. government into a prisoner swap. “They want to trade her,” Whitmore said, “and they’re going to drag this out until they get something they want.”
Multiple state-owned Russian news outlets reported that Russia would be open to swapping arms dealer Viktor Bout for Ms. Griner. Russia’s seemingly lopsided asking price complicates negotiations. In 2001, a jury convicted Bout of conspiring to kill U.S. nationals and officers, and the U.S. asserts that the convicted arms dealer smuggled military-grade weapons to rogue leaders and insurgent groups, elevating conflicts from machetes and one-shot rifles to grenade launchers and AK-47s. While as noted above, Ms. Griner allegedly had a few vape cartridges in her luggage.
As we all celebrate and enjoy this holiday weekend, let's keep all our loved ones who are suffering in our thoughts and prayers, and let's all hope for Ms. Griner's speedy release. And watch a WNBA game.