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WNBA players react to Brittney Griner appeal decision: ‘My heart breaks’

The Phoenix Mercury and Connecticut Sun huddle before a game in support of Brittney Griner. (Chris Marion/NBAE via Getty Images)

Brittney Griner has been detained in Russia for 250 days as of Tuesday.

While a U.S. official on Tuesday called the handling of the WNBA star’s judicial case “a sham,” Griner’s supporters still were left disheartened by a Russian court’s decision to reject the appeal of her nine-year sentence for drug possession.

“This appeal is further verification that BG is not just wrongfully detained,” the WNBA Players Association said in a statement. “She is very clearly a hostage.”

The Phoenix Mercury center was arrested in February at a Moscow-area airport while trying to join her Russian club, UMMC Ekaterinburg. She was accused of having less than a gram of cannabis in her possession; in Russia, possession of less than six grams of cannabis is supposed to garner no more than a fine or up to 15 days in jail.

More than eight months later, Griner remains in detention in Russia. She was convicted and sentenced to nine years in a Russian penal colony in August, close to the maximum sentence of 10 years, but she had appealed the decision.

“The verdict contains numerous defects and we hoped that the court of appeal would take them into consideration,” Griner’s lawyers said. “We still think the punishment is excessive and contradicts the existing court practice.”

The results of both her original case and the appeal, though, remain in line with expectations. In Russia, 99 percent of court cases result in a conviction, and U.S. officials have said that Griner’s case, in particular, was nothing more than a “show trial” with a “predetermined” outcome.

“We are aware of the news out of Russia that Brittney Griner will continue to be wrongfully detained under intolerable circumstances after having to undergo another sham judicial proceeding today,” U.S. national security advisor Jake Sullivan said in a statement Tuesday. “President Biden has been very clear that Brittney should be released immediately.”

The U.S. government is working to free Griner and fellow American detainee Paul Whelan. The Biden administration has proposed a prisoner swap with Russia, but officials do not expect significant movement from Russia until after the U.S. elections in November.

The WNBPA applauded Griner for her “courage and integrity” over the last 250 days and called on the public to rally around the Mercury center.

“No athlete should be used as a political pawn,” the WNBPA said in its statement.

WNBA players also took to social media Tuesday to express their support for Griner.

“It is time for her to come home,” tweeted Seattle Storm star Breanna Stewart, who has posted daily about Griner’s plight.

“My heart breaks for BG,” wrote Aisha Sheppard, who won the WNBA championship this season with the Las Vegas Aces.

Dallas Wings rookie Veronica Burton called the rejection of Griner’s appeal “horrible news to wake up to,” while Washington Mystics star Natasha Cloud wrote: “I’m sick about BG.”

Kia Nurse, one of Griner’s Mercury teammates, echoed the calls to “bring her home.”

“My heart goes out to BG and her loved ones,” Nurse wrote. “We love you and we miss you.”

Former WNBA player and current South Carolina women’s basketball coach Dawn Staley also expressed her continued support for Griner in the face of the “expected bad news.”