In This Episode
- WNBA star Brittney Griner is finally free from Russian imprisonment, 294 days after she was first arrested. U.S. officials successfully negotiated her release, which involved a 1-for-1 prisoner swap for notorious arms dealer Viktor Bout.
- And in headlines: the House passed a landmark bill to protect same-sex and interracial marriages, tens of thousands of academic workers in the University of California system continued their strike, and the FTC sued to block Microsoft from acquiring Activision Blizzard.
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Tre’vell Anderson: It’s Friday, December 9th. I’m Tre’vell Anderson.
Priyanka Aribindi: And I’m Priyanka Aribindi and this is What A Day. The only thing, aside from Christmas music that can legally be played over the P.A. system at our nation’s finest department stores.
Tre’vell Anderson: Yes, this is part of our you know long plan to dethrone the official unofficial queen of Christmas, Mariah Carey.
Priyanka Aribindi: I mean, Tre’vell said that. Those are fighting words. I did not say a word. [laughter] I am not. I’m not coming for you Mariah. I know my place. [music break] On today’s show, a bill to protect same sex marriages at the federal level is heading to President Biden’s desk. Plus, a newly elected member of Congress said he’s having trouble finding an apartment in D.C..
Tre’vell Anderson: Listen, we all know that struggle.
Priyanka Aribindi: Yes, we do.
Tre’vell Anderson: But first, after 294 days, Brittney Griner is finally free. President Biden announced yesterday the WNBA star’s release from a Russian penal colony.
[clip of President Joe Biden] I’m glad to be able to say that Brittney is in good spirits. She’s relieved to finally be heading home. And the fact remains that she’s lost months of her life, experienced a needless trauma. She deserves space, privacy, and time with her loved ones to recover and heal from her time being wrongfully detained.
Tre’vell Anderson: For those who might not remember Brittney Griner’s saga started back in February when she landed at a Moscow area airport. She was there because during the WNBA’s offseason, she and many other players go overseas to play in international leagues to supplement their income. And that’s because WNBA players don’t get those multimillion dollar contracts like the guys over in the NBA. But Brittney never got the chance to play for her Russian team this year because she was detained after authorities found in her luggage, vape cartridges containing a small amount of cannabis oil, which is illegal in Russia. When the case went to trial, she did plead guilty, but said it was an honest mistake and that she had no intention to break the law. She was eventually sentenced to nine and a half years in prison on drug smuggling charges. And as of a couple days ago, was serving out her sentence in a Russian penal colony. But I also want to remind folks about the political environment back in February as well, because that factored into a lot of people say her sentencing.
Priyanka Aribindi: Right.
Tre’vell Anderson: I know you’ll recall, Priyanka that, you know, her detainment was right about the same time that Russia launched its invasion into Ukraine. And in that war, the U.S. has sided with Ukraine. And so one of the prevailing sentiments is that if Brittney Griner wasn’t Brittney Griner, you know, this major U.S. celebrity, perhaps her journey to return home wouldn’t have been as traumatic and as drawn out as it’s been.
Priyanka Aribindi: Yeah, she has basically, it seems, become a political prisoner who is unjustly caught up in these world affairs. But after months of meetings and negotiations between the Biden administration and Russian officials, Brittney Griner is finally coming home. It is such exciting news. I know it wasn’t something that I was expecting to see or knew when it would happen. I think you felt the same way.
Tre’vell Anderson: Absolutely.
Priyanka Aribindi: So like what a pleasant, great surprise to wake up to. Her release involved a 1 to 1 prisoner swap. The U.S. basically traded Griner for a notorious Russian arms dealer named Viktor Bout. He was once nicknamed the quote, “Merchant of Death” and had been serving a 25 year sentence here in the U.S. since being convicted in 2011 of conspiring to kill American citizens and officials and providing aid to a terrorist organization. Just a scary, scary dude. But because this was a 1 to 1 swap, that means that Paul Whelan, the former U.S. Marine who’s been serving a 16 year sentence in Russia for a crime that he says never occurred, is still in a Russian penal colony himself.
Tre’vell Anderson: Right. There was so much talk about the potential of trading both Griner and Whelan for Viktor Bout. But a senior administration official said, quote, “This was not a situation where we had a choice of which American to bring home. It was a choice between bringing home one particular American, Brittney Griner, or bringing home none.” So disappointing news there for sure. But Biden did say he and his administration will not give up on trying to secure Whelan’s release, as well as the return of all Americans who are detained unjustly overseas. Also making that commitment was Cherelle Griner, Brittney’s wife, who’s been advocating for Britney’s return for several agonizing months.
[clip of Cherelle Griner] Today, my family is whole, but as you all are aware, there’s so many other families who are not whole and so BG’s not here to say this. But I will gladly speak on her behalf and say that BG and I will remain committed to the work of getting every American home, including Paul, whose family is in our hearts today as we celebrate BG being home. We do understand that there are still people out here who are enduring what I endured the last nine months of missing tremendously their loved ones. So thank you, everybody, for your support. And today is just a happy day for me and my family. So I’m going to smile right now.
Priyanka Aribindi: Aw. That like makes me emotional to listen to. I’m really happy for her. And clearly they’re really committed too. They like know that they’re not the only ones who have been in this situation.
Tre’vell Anderson: Yeah.
Priyanka Aribindi: We wanted to get a bit deeper on Brittney Griner’s release. So today we are joined by freelance sportswriter Lyndsey D’Arcangelo. She covers women’s basketball and the WNBA and has been following this story closely since, you know, back when Brittney Griner was first detained. Lyndsey, welcome to What A Day.
Lyndsey D’Arcangelo: Thanks for having me. It’s a good day to be here.
Priyanka Aribindi: It really is. We got the news of Brittney Griner’s release yesterday after months and months of waiting and really no idea of how long or when this would happen. Any of that. So how have her teammates, you know, the WNBA organization and the rest of the sports world and the rest of the country that’s been invested in this, been reacting since this news came out.
Lyndsey D’Arcangelo: Just so grateful. But there’s also a bit of shock just because, like you had said, we weren’t really sure if this was going to happen, when it was going to happen after the appeal was denied, you know, it looked like, you know, she might end up being in there for a while and no one really knew. So just joy. Pure joy.
Tre’vell Anderson: Yeah. Let’s rewind just a little bit here. Can you talk about what the league, especially other players, have been doing over the last 294 days to kind of keep a spotlight on this story?
Lyndsey D’Arcangelo: Yeah. And not just in the WNBA. I also want to shout out women’s college basketball because coaches around the country have been talking about Brittney Griner in show of support. And then you have the the WNBA um players around the league constantly tweeting, constantly keeping the situation in the forefront of everybody’s minds. People like Breanna Stewart, she would tweet every day. And then you have during the summer when the WNBA plays. Her, her initials were on every home court throughout the league, all 12 teams.
Tre’vell Anderson: Yeah, I feel like many folks were concerned that people would forget about Brittney Griner being over there. And for many of us, particularly for me as a Black queer person, some of those identity markers that Brittney Griner has in a penal colony, in a country that is Russia, which we know is, you know, not the best, to put it lightly–
Lyndsey D’Arcangelo: Right.
Tre’vell Anderson: –when it comes to LGBTQ folk. Could you talk a little bit about that urgency that I think folks try to kind of keep front of mind?
Lyndsey D’Arcangelo: Yeah, it’s definitely a part of it. And it played a role in everybody’s fear for her mental, physical and emotional well-being. I mean, we all know where Russia stands on LGBTQ policies. They’re not great, to put it lightly, you know, especially when she got moved from what seemed to be considering the circumstances, an okay place, an okay holding place. That she was in to a penal colony. Then there are there’s no updates. You don’t know what the conditions are like. You don’t know where she’s being held or what that even looks or feels like. So there was a lot of fear there, but um thankfully she was released before the end of the year, which is mind boggling and eased everybody’s fears as far as that’s concerned.
Priyanka Aribindi: Right. Something that we think about and like a secondary discussion that this has sparked is how these WNBA players have to play overseas to supplement their income in the off season. How that is like a common scenario for many of these players. So could this have happened to like theoretically any WNBA player?
Lyndsey D’Arcangelo: Yeah, theoretically, sure. I think the timing of everything, even before she had been going back to play for Russia, there’s been reporting that she was undecided if she even wanted to go. You know, she’s been playing over there a few years, but the team that she was playing for, it was it was very well known, very well funded. Treated their players very well. And I think the expectation was she’d go, she’d get one more run in and then maybe that would be it. And then Russia invades Ukraine and that just set off this whole thing in motion. And I really believe the political climate, if it wasn’t what it is or was at that time period last February that she might have slid right through security. Um. We don’t we don’t know. And, yeah, I think she is a recognizable star. She’s a recognizable name. And you’ve got to believe that that was at play. And so it could have happened to a lot of people. That’s why they tried to get every other player out and they did successfully right away.
Priyanka Aribindi: Right.
Lyndsey D’Arcangelo: Once this whole thing started happening.
Tre’vell Anderson: So obviously, it’s kind of, you know, too soon to talk about whether she will return to the basketball court and whatnot. But I’d love to hear you speak a little bit about kind of before all of this, this last year, what was Brittney Griner’s like, impact on the sport at large?
Lyndsey D’Arcangelo: Yeah, so I had the pleasure of interviewing Brittney Griner for a cover story for a print magazine that’s now defunct called Curve. It was the bestselling lesbian magazine in The Nation at the time, and and she was one of the first cover stories I ever landed as a sportswriter. And she had just come out into the WNBA. She came out during the draft and everything. Like she just no qualms. I believe she set that tone for other generations to come in and saying, this is who I am on and off the court. You got to accept me for who I am. And for someone like me who is also gay, you know, that was like a huge thing. [?] even back then in 2015, she was so comfortable in her skin. Charming, welcoming, funny. And you see that through her career. It has it has evolved. That hasn’t changed. She’s one of the most beloved players in the WNBA. She’s one of the most celebrated. She’s one of the most talented. She’s one of the most recognizable faces. Especially as a queer athlete. You can see that in the entire WNBA community, from players to owners to coaches to writers to fans. Everybody just loves her for who she is. And that was a huge reason why you saw so many people rally behind her. I mean, she’s as real as it gets.
Tre’vell Anderson: Well, Lyndsey, thank you so much for joining us. We really appreciate it.
Lyndsey D’Arcangelo: Thanks again for having me.
Tre’vell Anderson: That was WNBA writer Lyndsey D’Arcangelo. More on all of this very soon, but that’s the latest for now. [music break] Let’s get to some headlines.
Tre’vell Anderson: The Iranian government yesterday carried out its first execution connected to the ongoing protests over the police killing of Mahsa Amini. Mohsen Shekeri was one of thousands who first took to the streets in September to push back against Iran’s authoritarian regime. He was convicted in a closed door court in October of, quote, “waging a war against God” for attacking a security officer with a machete during a demonstration. Activists worry that more jailed protesters will be executed in the coming days.
Priyanka Aribindi: Yeah, it’s a terrifying, terrifying reality that this has been and is continuing to be. The House passed the Respect for Marriage Act yesterday, clearing the way for President Biden to sign it into law. The landmark legislation will enshrine protections for same sex and interracial couples into federal law and ensure that their marriages will still be recognized even if the Supreme Court were to overturn the precedent that legalized them nationwide. The bill also repeals the 1996 Defense of Marriage Act, which defined marriage as between one man and one woman, and also allowed states to deny same sex marriages that were certified in states where they are recognized.
Tre’vell Anderson: College students across the country are preparing for finals right now, but for some, those exams might not even be graded this year as two historic academic labor strikes continue. Here in California, nearly 50,000 unionized academic workers in the University of California system are still on strike, as student researchers and teaching assistants continue negotiating for a new labor contract. Over in New York, more than a thousand part time faculty members at the New School have officially entered the third week of their strike. These workers, who make up more than 80% of the university’s educators, took to the picket lines last month to demand better pay, job security and access to health care. The work stoppage is believed to be the longest adjunct strike in U.S. history. The union representing these workers is reviewing an offer from administrators a day after the university said it would stop paying part time faculty on strike.
Priyanka Aribindi: And a holiday shopping disaster for Microsoft as the Federal Trade Commission sued yesterday to block the tech giant from spending nearly $69 billion dollars to acquire the gaming company Activision Blizzard. The deal would be one of the largest tech acquisitions in history. But the FTC says that it’s anti-competitive and would harm consumers. Activision Blizzard owns mega franchises like Call of Duty, World of Warcraft, and the illicit drug known as Candy Crush. It’s a real trifecta. Putting all of those titles under Microsoft’s control could give the company an unfair advantage over peers like Sony and Nintendo. Regulators in the EU and UK are also looking closely at the deal, but they have yet to make any legal moves.
Tre’vell Anderson: And unfortunately, we couldn’t let you make it through the week without at least one update about Twitter under that man, Elon Musk.
Priyanka Aribindi: Truly.
Tre’vell Anderson: The company was hit with a lawsuit on Wednesday which claims that female employees were disproportionately targeted in recent layoffs. Allegedly, Twitter laid off 57% of its female workers, compared with 47% of its male workers. And the lawsuit claims it violated federal and California laws against workplace sex discrimination in doing so. Twitter is also facing an investigation by the San Francisco Department of building inspections after it reportedly converted some offices into temporary bedrooms for employees, possibly violating building codes in the process, not to mention countless rules of personal hygiene.
Priyanka Aribindi: Listen Tre’vell. You said it best like get his ass, whatever way you have to do it. Just get him. Just get him. It’s fine.
Tre’vell Anderson: Calm him down just a little bit, is all I’m saying.
Priyanka Aribindi: Just a little.
Tre’vell Anderson: Okay. And those are the headlines. We’ll be back after some ads to discuss young representatives in the House. They’re just like us. [music break].
Tre’vell Anderson: It’s Friday WAD squad. And for today’s temp check, we’re talking about a major obstacle faced by a new lawmaker in the House. And specifically, that obstacle is finding a house. Representative elect Maxwell Frost of Florida said yesterday that his application for an apartment in Washington, D.C. was rejected because he has a bad credit score. As you may remember, Frost is 25 years old and the first member of Gen Z elected to Congress. He’s a friend of WAD and he says he had to run up some debt while on the campaign trail over the past year and a half, considering his income during that time was largely limited to what he made driving part time for Uber. Frost noted that representative Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez voiced similar concerns about the difficulty of finding housing in 2018, and she got elected at the age of 29. And to anyone who’s ever tried to lock down an apartment in a U.S. city at a rent that’s affordable without also selling blood plasma, Frost’s struggles are all too relatable. So, Priyanka, what do you make of this?
Priyanka Aribindi: There’s a reason that like when you looked at the House, the Senate, like our institutions of government, like it is a very homogenous population for the most part, and has been for like the large majority of our history. And that’s because, like, it is extraordinarily hard for people who don’t come from that same background, don’t have those same resources to do any of this. It’s so much harder. Like Maxwell Frost, also, he fought against crazy odds to, at age 25, get elected in the first place. And now, like, he’s like, I got this job and I’m here at the nation’s capitol to do my job. And you won’t even let me live here, like are you serious? It’s crazy. Same with working as staffers on the Hill and things like that. Like, none of that is accessible for people and we should talk about that a little bit more.
Tre’vell Anderson: We absolutely should. Right? Like I think if you are the building manager or whatever that rejected a new–
Priyanka Aribindi: And a freaking congressman–
Tre’vell Anderson: You know. [laughing]
Priyanka Aribindi: –wants to move into your building. Are you serious?
Tre’vell Anderson: Like what is happening? But we should also know, right, that like credit is a scam, like this whole idea of credit scores and all of that is a scam in the first place.
Priyanka Aribindi: Bye.
Tre’vell Anderson: We need to abolish it. Um. Maybe that’s a hot take. I don’t know. Um. [laugh] But it really is absurd.
Priyanka Aribindi: I’m for it. Let’s abolish it. I don’t really understand the [laughter] ramifications but like, I’m with ya.
Tre’vell Anderson: Me either. Right. But what I can say is that, you know, you not being able to find housing because you have bad credit, because you worked part time for Uber and had to charge all this stuff on credit cards so that you could campaign, so that you–
Priyanka Aribindi: Yeah.
Tre’vell Anderson: –could run to lead our country not into, you know, deeper hell, but into some wonderful promised land. You should be able to get housing to do that. Simple things. Once again.
Priyanka Aribindi: You said it. That is our take on it. There’s nothing left to say.
Tre’vell Anderson: Just like that. We’ve checked our temps. The rent is too damn high and they are as cold as poorly insulated DC apartments um and–
Priyanka Aribindi: God.
Tre’vell Anderson: –the hearts of the people who [laugh] rejected Max Frost’s application. But here we are.
Priyanka Aribindi: We hate them. We hate them for you, Max. [music break]
Tre’vell Anderson: That’s all for today. If you like the show, make sure you subscribe. Leave a review, sleep away from the office and tell your friends to listen.
Priyanka Aribindi: And if you’re into reading and not just the 12 steps to quit Candy Crush like me, What A Day is also a nightly newsletter. Check it out and subscribe at Crooked.com/subscribe. I’m Priyanka Aribindi.
Tre’vell Anderson: I’m Tre’vell Anderson.
[spoken together] And happy apartment hunting representative Frost.
Priyanka Aribindi: Feels like we’re, like, rubbing it in. Like, I don’t think any apartment hunt is happy.
Tre’vell Anderson: I was just about to say that. I don’t think I have ever had a good time looking for an apartment. You have to pay all these application fees that you don’t get back if you don’t get it.
Priyanka Aribindi: Nope.
Tre’vell Anderson: It’s really not a cute situation if we’re being honest.
Priyanka Aribindi: No, not at all. [music break]
Tre’vell Anderson: What A Day is a production of Crooked Media. It’s recorded and mixed by Bill Lancz. Jazzi Marine and Raven Yamamoto are our associate producers. Our head writer is Jon Millstein and our executive producer is Lita Martinez. Our theme music is by Colin Gilliard and Kashaka.