Fogel’s case is an example of preferential treatment

Courtesy of Unsplash | Marc Fogel, a teacher from the Pittsburgh suburb of Oakmont, was sentenced to 14 years in a Russian prison for attempting to enter the country while possessing medical marijuana. His case closely parallels that of WNBA superstar Brittney Griner.

Luke Henne | Editor-in-Chief

Aug. 25, 2022

One of the biggest principles I try to abide by in life is being consistent.

Whether its in the world of journalism with adhering to AP style or by always telling the truth and doing what’s right, consistency says a lot about the type of person someone is.

That’s why the case of Marc Fogel, a teacher from the Pittsburgh suburb of Oakmont, is so alarming and disheartening to someone like myself.

Fogel, who’s taught internationally in countries like Malaysia and Venezuela, has also instructed in Russia for a decade. But, as Manuel Roig-Franzia of The Washington Post reported, Fogel was arrested in August 2021 during his attempt to reenter the country.

His crime? In his possession was approximately half an ounce of medical marijuana that was prescribed to him back home to treat lingering chronic pain.

Fogel’s offense aligns itself with that of Brittney Griner, who was arrested in February when trying to enter the same nation with the same substance: a “small amount of medical marijuana.”

After respective hearings for Fogel and Griner, it was clear that Russia was consistent (but unjustified) in delivering harsh sentences. Griner was given nine years in prison during a hearing on Aug. 4, while Fogel received 14 years this past June.

A pretty consistent pattern is clear in each individual’s story: an American enters the country with medical marijuana, Russian authorities arrest the individuals and dish out unfathomable prison sentences for what seem like such minor crimes.

Where do the cases differ? Unfortunately, one is a star athlete, while the other is lesser known.

Griner, an NCAA champion at Baylor University in 2012 and a WNBA champion with the Phoenix Mercury in 2014, has been a focal point of news coverage and White House efforts to get the basketball superstar back to the United States in a prisoner swap.

Roig-Franzia indicated on July 27, nearly a week before Griner’s sentencing, that Secretary of State Antony Blinken had made a “substantial proposal” to have not only Griner released, but also Paul Whelan, a fellow American who is imprisoned in Russia on a 16-year sentence prompted by spy charges.

What about Fogel? What makes him any less important than Griner or Whelan? After all, they are all Americans. Americans who are being, what is commonly regarded as wrongfully detained, in a powerful but adversarial nation.

Jane Fogel, Marc’s wife, told The Washington Post that she’s starting to fear that her husband will catch the short end of the stick.

“There’s a sinking feeling in the pit of my stomach that Marc will be left behind,” Jane said to Roig-Franzia. “It’s terrifying. I would hope that President Biden and especially first lady Jill Biden, who is an educator, realize the importance of including Fogel in addition to Brittney Griner and Paul Whelan.”

The Washington Post reported that Fogel’s case has been stalled at the mid-functionary level of the U.S. State Department, and word of a potential Griner swap didn’t help Fogel’s well-being.

According to a letter that Fogel wrote home, he said, “That [the prisoner-exchange reports] hurt. Teachers are at least as important as [basket]ballers.”

Roig-Franzia noted that a State Department official said that the agency “is aware of Fogel’s case,” but cited privacy reasons as justification for refusing to provide any further information, while also declining an interview request.

I fully agree. There’s zero reason why Griner (or Whelan) deserve preferential treatment over Marc. All three are Americans, and equal attention should be paid to each of them.

It’s not like any of the three are rivals with one another. Fogel said that she hopes Griner and Whelan will also make it home. Griner previously issued a statement in which she pleaded for other Americans to be released.

Jane has said that she feels like a “widow.” It shouldn’t be this way.

The tenured teacher is an American, just like the women’s basketball icon is. But, if equal attention isn’t paid and one is given more treatment due to her accolades and notoriety, how can Americans be certain that the government cares about all of its citizens?

It’s time to see a little bit more consistency and more effort put toward securing the release of not just Griner, Whelan or Marc individually, but of all those who are treated unequally and inhumanely.