Why Brittney Griner is being held in Russia
Brittney Griner, a seven-time WNBA All-Star selection and Olympic gold medalist, has been detained in Russia for the past two months after being accused by Moscow authorities of illegally having vape cartridges containing hashish oil with her at an airport.
Initial reports of the former Baylor University standout being detained by Russian authorities came to light after Moscow began its unprovoked invasion of neighboring Ukraine on February 24.
More recent, a Russian court has extended Griner’s detainment in the country until May 19.
Griner, 31, a member of the Phoenix Mercury in the WNBA, competes in Russia during the WNBA’s winter off-season, as most female basketball players play for overseas basketball teams to secure more lucrative contracts.
Griner, who was recently named to the league’s 25th-anniversary team, has been regarded as a generational talent at her position, known for her defensive tenacity and highlight-reel plays, such as dunking.
U.S. officials have referred to securing her release as being a “top priority.” Griner is perhaps the highest-profile U.S. citizen detained by Russian authorities, though she is hardly alone.
Paul Whelan, who was detained by authorities in 2018 on espionage charges, which he denied, was sentenced to 16 years in prison in 2020. The U.S. has also pressed for his release.
The Biden administration last week announced the release of Trevor Reed, a former Marine who has been detained in Russia for the past three years, saying that his release from custody was a part of a prisoner exchange for a Russian national who was jailed in the U.S. for drug trafficking charges.
A State Department spokesperson told The Hill on Tuesday that they have reclassified Griner’s case, saying that she was “wrongfully detained” by authorities.
“The welfare and safety of U.S. citizens abroad is among the highest priorities of the U.S. Government,” a State Department spokesperson said. “The U.S. Government will continue to undertake efforts to provide appropriate support to Ms. Griner.”
A source close to Griner told sports media outlet ESPN that the former U.S. ambassador to the United Nations Bill Richardson agreed to work on the basketball star’s case.
The WNBA has also spoken out in support of bringing Griner back to the U.S. soil, sharing plans to honor her throughout this upcoming season with a floor decal. The floor decal will feature Griner’s initials and jersey number, 42, and will appear on the home courts of all twelve league franchises.
“As we begin the 2022 season, we are keeping Brittney at the forefront of what we do through the game of basketball and in the community,” WNBA Commissioner Cathy Engelbert said in a statement. “We continue to work on bringing Brittney home and are appreciative of the support the community has shown BG and her family during this extraordinarily challenging time.”
Women’s National Basketball Players Association President and Los Angeles Sparks star forward Nneka Ogwumike and Griner’s agent, Lindsay Kagawa Colas, have continued to mount the pressure to bring the seven-time All-Star back home.
“Brittney Griner has been detained for 75 days and our expectation is that the @WhiteHouse do whatever is necessary to bring her home,” Colas wrote in a tweet. “#WeAreBG”
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