One of the biggest stories in the WNBA this year unfolded off the court, as Phoenix Mercury star Brittney Griner was detained in Russia for 294 days.
The 32-year-old was freed Thursday after nearly 10 months in Russian custody and is on her way home to the United States.
She was taken into custody in a Moscow airport in February for alleged possession of hashish oil. The seven-time WNBA All-Star and two-time Olympic gold medalist has played for Russian club UMMC Ekaterinburg during the WNBA offseason since 2015.
Just Women’s Sports has a timeline of her detainment, from her arrest to her release.
Brittney Griner is coming home.
The Biden administration negotiated a prisoner swap, in which Russia released Griner in exchange for the United States’ release of arms dealer Viktor Bout, President Joe Biden announced Thursday from the White House.
The Biden administration also had sought the release of another American detainee, Paul Whelan, who has been imprisoned in Russia since 2018, but was unable to strike a deal. Biden pledged to continue to fight for his freedom.
The WNBA star has been moved to a remote women’s penal colony in the Russian region of Mordovia, a source told Reuters on Thursday.
While Griner’s transfer to the penal colony began Nov. 4, Russian authorities did not inform her legal team or her family of the move until days later, ESPN reported. And those authorities still have not provided any information on her whereabouts.
Per Reuters, she has been taken to the Female Penal Colony IK-2 in the town of Yavas in the Mordovia region. Whelan is being held in the same region.
“We are aware of reports of her location and in frequent contact with Ms. Griner’s legal team,” a U.S. State Department spokesperson told Reuters. “However, the Russian Federation has still failed to provide any official notification for such a move of a U.S. citizen, which we strongly protest.
“The Embassy has continued to press for more information about her transfer and current location.”
The Baylor women’s basketball team announced ahead of the season that they would honor Griner by wearing jersey patches throughout the season. Griner won a national championship with the Bears in 2012.
The patch features Griner’s initials, BG, and her jersey number 42, as well as a small heart.
The Stanford women’s basketball team will do the same, the team announced Monday ahead of its season opener.
The Cardinal have ordered patches, and while they had not arrived in time for the opener, the team held a moment of silence before the game in support of Griner.
“I just wanted to remind everyone that we’re thinking of her, and that we love her, and that it’s a horrible situation,” Stanford coach Tara VanDerveer said.
U.S. Embassy officials have met with Griner in Russia, the White House said. The officials “saw firsthand her tenacity and perserverence despite her present circumstances,” State Department spokesman Ned Price said.
Russia has not accepted a “significant offer” from the Biden administration to “resolve the current unacceptable and wrongful detention” of Griner and Whelan, White House press secretary Karine Jean-Pierre told reporters Thursday. Still, the effort to bring both home remains “a top priority.”
“Despite a lack of good-faith negotiation by the Russians, the U.S. government has continued to follow up on that offer and propose alternative potential ways forward with Russians through all available channels,” Jean-Pierre said.
Las Vegas Aces coach Becky Hammon called for more attention for Griner’s plight while speaking at the espnW Women + Sports Summit.
“If this was LeBron James, is LeBron James still sitting over there? I don’t think so,” Hammon said. “And that’s the unfortunate part about all of this.”
A former WNBA star, Hammon also spent significant time in Russia during her playing career. She even became a naturalized Russian citizen in order to play for the Russian national team at the 2008 and 2012 Olympics. But she condemned Griner’s detainment.
“It’s wrong,” she said. “It was a gut punch. There’s so many things that are normal over there that I’m like, ‘It’s not normal.’ … She’s been turned into a political pawn and it’s really unfortunate.”
The U.S. government has been involved in “active discussions, including in recent days,” as it works to free Griner and Whelan from Russian custody, U.S. State Department spokesperson Ned Price said Monday.
The WNBA star’s appeal of her sentence for drug possession was denied Tuesday by a Russian court. She was convicted in August and sentenced to nine years in a penal colony.
“We have not weighed in on the various judicial proceedings and judicial steps because as we’ve made clear, we believe that these proceedings have been largely shambolic,” Price told reporters.
U.S. national security advisor Jake Sullivan called the appeal hearing “another sham judicial proceeding” in a statement Tuesday, while reiterating that the Biden administration “has continued to engage with Russia through every available channel” in their efforts to bring Griner and Whelan home.
“The administration remains in regular touch with representatives of the families, and we continue to admire their courage in the face of these unimaginable circumstances,” Sullivan said.
A Russian court set the date for Griner’s appeal of her nine-year prison sentence for drug possession. Griner will appear in court again on Oct. 25.
This comes after the Phoenix Mercury star was convicted on Aug. 4. The two-time Olympic medalist had admitted to having vape canisters containing cannabis oil in her luggage but testified that she hadn’t meant to pack them and had no criminal intent.
Following the conviction, Griner’s lawyers argued that the sentence, close to the 10 year maximum, was excessive. In similar cases, they argued, defendants receive an average sentence of five years with a third of them being granted parole.
The U.S. State Department considers Griner to be “wrongfully detained” and has made an offer to the Russian government to bring Griner home alongside fellow American detainee Whelan.
NWSL players will wear “We Are BG” t-shirts through the end of September to draw attention to Griner’s plight.
The Washington Spirit showed up to their game Wednesday wearing the shirts. The NWSLPA organized the shirts, Aubrey Kingsbury said after the match, which have been in the works “for a long time.”
“Our PA has organized that in getting shirts to all the teams, and just raising awareness from now through the end of September, especially as the WNBA season just wrapped up,” she said. “They’re going to lose a lot of that attention off of them, but we still need to highlight Brittney Griner, and her release, and put pressure to bring her and other Americans home safely.
“So, if we can help out our sisters of the WNBA, that’s what we’re hoping to do for the rest of our season.”
Read the shirt. pic.twitter.com/4hRBN1WF1L— Washington Spirit (@WashSpirit) September 22, 2022
Read the shirt. pic.twitter.com/4hRBN1WF1L
President Joe Biden will welcome Griner’s wife to the White House on Friday, sources told the Associated Press.
The president will also meet with the family of Paul Whelan, another American detained in Russia. Friday will mark the first in-person meetings between Biden and the families of the two detainees.
The Biden administration proposed a prisoner swap in July to bring Griner and Whelan home, but negotiations with Russia have been unsuccessful so far.
Friday’s meetings are meant to show commitment to Griner, Whelan and other Americans jailed abroad, and to “connect with [the families] on a human level as they undergo an ordeal that the Russian government has imposed on them,” one senior administration official told the Associated Press.
Former New Mexico governor and U.S. Ambassador to the U.N. Bill Richardson held meetings in Moscow with Russian leadership this week, as first reported by CNN.
Richardson, who also worked as a diplomat, has long worked privately to help free hostages and detainees overseas through the Richardson Center. Earlier this year, he helped to secure the release of Trevor Reed, another American who was held in Russia, a source told CNN.
Details regarding Richardson’s meetings have not been revealed, but they come as the U.S. government is working to free both Griner and fellow American detainee Whelan.
A spokesperson for the Richardson Center told CNN on Tuesday that they could not provide comment “at this point.”
A senior Biden administration official told CNN regarding the trip that anyone “who’s going to Russia is going as a private citizen and they don’t speak for the U.S. government.”
That same official reiterated Tuesday that the U.S. state department has “made a significant offer” to Russia in exchange for the two prisoners and has “followed up on that offer repeatedly.”
Last week, State Department principal deputy spokesperson Vedant Patel spoke on behalf of the Department saying that “the U.S. Government continues to urge Russia to release wrongfully detained individuals Brittney Griner and Paul Whelan.”
“As you all know, the Secretary came and spoke to you all a number of weeks ago, where he was clear that there was a substantial proposal on the table weeks ago to facilitate their release, and our governments have communicated repeatedly and directly on that proposal,” he said.
Former NBA star Dennis Rodman said Saturday he plans to travel to Russia to advocate for Griner’s release. But his trip could do more harm than good, a senior Biden administration official told NBC News.
“I got permission to go to Russia to help that girl,” Rodman told NBC News. “I’m trying to go this week.”
If he were to go, it wouldn’t be the first time he attempted informal diplomacy with an international leader. Over the past decade, he’s developed a relationship with North Korean leader Kim Jong Un. He also has credited himself with helping to secure the release of American Kenneth Bae from the country.
According to Rodman, he has cultivated a relationship with Vladimir Putin as well. In 2014, after a Moscow visit, he deemed the Russian president “cool.”
“I know Putin too well,” he said earlier this week.
But efforts to free Griner outside official channels could backfire, the senior administration official warned. Russia repeatedly has called for “quiet diplomacy” when it comes to handling the release of Griner.
“It’s public information that the administration has made a significant offer to the Russians and anything other than negotiating further through the established channel is likely to complicate and hinder release efforts,” the official said.
Lawyers for Griner filed an appeal of her nine-year sentence for drug possession, per Russian news agencies.
The move was expected, as under Russian law the defense had ten days to appeal the ruling.
Maria Blagovolina and Alexander Boikov, Griner’s counsel, have been vocal about the WNBA star’s sentence, saying that it was excessive and citing similar cases where defendants received sentences closer to five years.
Former New Mexico governor and U.S. Ambassador to the U.N. Bill Richardson said he’s hopeful that Griner and Whelan will be brought home via a prisoner swap.
Richardson joined George Stephanopoulos on ABC’s “This Week,” where he said that the duo could be part of a “two-for-two” prisoner exchange.
“My view is optimistic, I think she’s gonna be free. There’s gonna be a prisoner swap — I think it’s gonna be two-for-two. Can’t forget about Paul Whelan,” Richardson said.
The former ambassador has been an outside adviser involved in Griner’s case, describing himself as a “catalyst.”
“I’ve been talking to the Russians. I talked to the White House,” he said, but failed to provide specifics.
He does the work as founder of the Richardson Center for Global Engagement, and was involved in helping to free ex-Marine Trevor Reed in another prisoner exchange in Russia.
Richardson worked with Russian Foreign Minister Sergey Lavrov while at the U.N.
“Lavrov, he and I were U.N. ambassadors together at the same time,” Richardson said. “And I’m pleased that he’s pragmatic, that he’s sort of in charge and sent a good signal. I think the negotiations are going to be undertaken.”
Still, Richardson doesn’t agree completely with the U.S. government’s strategy.
“I wouldn’t have gone public as much as they did,” he said. But he also noted that the U.S. government’s comments about their offer of a prisoner exchange came in response to stalling from Russia.
“You want to throw a little bit of a bomb, and I think that’s what they did,” he said.
Russian Foreign Minister Sergey Lavrov said that the Kremlin are “ready to discuss” the U.S. government’s prisoner swap proposal.
“We are ready to discuss this topic, but within the framework of the channel that was agreed upon by presidents Putin and Biden,” Lavrov said, according to Reuters. “If the Americans decide to once again resort to public diplomacy … that is their business and I would even say that it is their problem.”
The warning echoes that of previous calls for “quiet diplomacy” from the Russian side.
On Friday, Kremlin spokesperson Dmitry Peskov reiterated that stance, saying that the United States has already made mistakes in their attempts to negotiate according to the Associated Press.
“The Americans have already made that mistake, suddenly deciding to use megaphone diplomacy to resolve these issues,” Peskov said, declining to comment on the court’s ruling. “This is not how they are resolved.”
Both Lavrov and U.S. Secretary of State Anthony Blinken are in Cambodia for a meeting of the Association of Southeast Asian Nations. Reportedly, the two did not speak to one another at the event.
Blinken has said that Washington is “prepared to engage with Moscow through the established diplomatic channels.” Following the sentencing, White House national security spokesperson John Kirby urged Russia to accept their serious proposal for a swap.
“We urge them to accept it,” he said. “They should have accepted it weeks ago when we first made it.”
Following the sentencing of Griner to nine years in prison, United States president Joe Biden slammed Russia for “wrongfully detaining” Griner.
“Today, American citizen Brittney Griner received a prison sentence that is one more reminder of what the world already knew: Russia is wrongfully detaining Brittney,” he said. “It’s unacceptable, and I call on Russia to release her immediately.
“My administration will continue to work tirelessly to pursue every possible avenue to bring Brittney and Paul Whelan home safely as soon as possible.”
President Biden slams Griner’s 9-year prison sentence as “one more reminder of what the world already knew: Russia is wrongfully detaining Brittney.”“It’s unacceptable, and I call on Russia to release her immediately” pic.twitter.com/LkLnMQXor3— Jeremy Diamond (@JDiamond1) August 4, 2022
President Biden slams Griner’s 9-year prison sentence as “one more reminder of what the world already knew: Russia is wrongfully detaining Brittney.”“It’s unacceptable, and I call on Russia to release her immediately” pic.twitter.com/LkLnMQXor3
Ahead of Thursday’s final arguments in Griner’s trial, Griner’s teammates and other WNBA players took to social media to appeal to the Russian court for leniency.
Arike Ogunbowale, who played in Russia for Dynamo Kursk, pointed to the connectivity of sport in connecting people and cultures.
“BG has always been great to me,” she wrote. “She’s a good person, and we miss her. She’s a basketball player who means so much to so many people around the world. I’m making a public appeal today for Brittney Griner, that the court shows her mercy and kindness.”
Bring her home! #WeAreBG pic.twitter.com/7bOfOMTZ8n— Arike Ogunbowale (@Arike_O) August 3, 2022
Bring her home! #WeAreBG pic.twitter.com/7bOfOMTZ8n
In an exclusive with Reuters, Las Vegas Aces head coach and former Russian national team star Becky Hammon spoke publicly about Griner for the first time. In the interview, she urged Russian president Vladimir Putin to free Griner.
“The time that she’s served over there, enough’s enough,” she said. “So many players have gone over to Russia, including myself. Russia has been very good to us as athletes. So to see Brittney being detained is upsetting.
“It’s something that obviously hits super close to home for me and so I just ask the Russian government to do the right thing. It’s never too late to do the right thing. At this point, whether she did or didn’t, it’s time to send her home.”
Other players also made video appeals that were shared with Reuters, including Seattle’s Breanna Stewart and Griner’s Mercury teammate Diana Taurasi.
“We called Russia our second home for many years. I ask, for the sanctity of sport, to have mercy and understanding for our beloved Brittney Griner,” said Taurasi.
Kristi Toliver, Courtney Vandersloot, Jonquel Jones and Emma Meesseman — all teammates of Griner’s with Ekaterinburg — also made public appeals.
“Brittney Griner won 7 Russian Championships and 4 Euroleague titles while playing for UMMC,” wrote Vandersloot. “We returned year after year and considered it a second home. I ask out of respect for the sanctity of sport, that Russia will have mercy and show compassion to BG as her trial ends.”
Toliver wrote that Griner has brought “so much light and grace” to Russia.
“I can only hope they can give her grace in return,” she wrote.
Players around the WNBA share their experience of playing with Brittney Griner in UMMC Ekaterinburg of Russia on Instagram. They're also pleading for BG to return home safely. #WeAreBg #WNBATwitter pic.twitter.com/XJBfpm6sw9— Aya Abdeen (she/her) Free Brittney Griner (@ayabdeen) August 4, 2022
Players around the WNBA share their experience of playing with Brittney Griner in UMMC Ekaterinburg of Russia on Instagram. They're also pleading for BG to return home safely. #WeAreBg #WNBATwitter pic.twitter.com/XJBfpm6sw9
Amanda Zahui B., who played for Russia’s Dynamo Kursk from 2020 until 2021, called Griner one of the many “beautiful souls around the world” that she has gotten to know through basketball.
“There is not a moment BG has not brought happiness to the people around her,” she wrote. “I wish and pray that the court will show Brittney Griner the compassion and mercy she deserves and is worthy of.”
#WeAreBG 🖤🖤 pic.twitter.com/30kVJySZ5T— Amanda Zahui B. (@AmandaZahuiB) August 3, 2022
#WeAreBG 🖤🖤 pic.twitter.com/30kVJySZ5T
Griner was back in court as an expert witness for the defense challenged the state’s analysis of the drugs found in her luggage. The specialist called the analysis flawed and said it didn’t conform to official rules, per ESPN.
The trial then adjourned until Thursday, with closing arguments scheduled for that date. ESPN’s T.J. Quinn has reported that a verdict and sentencing are expected Friday.
Griner could face up to 10 years in prison if convicted.
Russian officials have said that the only way for Griner to be exchanged and release is after a conviction.
Some experts are expecting a harsh sentencing. Washington attorney and former legal adviser to the U.S. Embassy in Moscow Tom Firestone told the Associated Press that a tougher sentence could be a way for Russia “to maximize their leverage in negotiations.”
White House Press Secretary Karine Jean-Pierre updated reporters Monday on the negotiations for Griner’s release. She said that in response to the U.S. government’s offer of a prisoner exchange, Russia made a “bad faith” response with a counteroffer that American officials don’t consider to be serious.
U.S. Secretary of State Antony Blinken spoke with Russian Foreign Minister Sergey Lavrov about the proposed prisoner swap involving Griner.
The Biden administration has presented a deal to Russia that would bring home Griner and fellow American detainee Whelan in exchange for Bout.
Blinken called the phone call with Lavrov a “frank and direct conversation” — the first between the two since Russia’s invasion of Ukraine began five months ago.
“I pressed the Kremlin to accept the substantial proposal that we put forth on the release of Paul Whelan and Brittney Griner,” said Blinken. However, Blinken said that he cannot give an assessment “of whether that is any more or less likely.”
Lavrov had said earlier Friday that he was open to discussing a potential deal with Blinken.
Russia is open to negotiating with the United States for Griner’s release, but Russian officials warned Thursday that a potential prisoner swap involving the basketball star must be discussed quietly.
The news comes one day after U.S. Secretary of State Antony Blinken said the Biden administration made a “substantial proposal” weeks ago to bring home Griner and Whelan.
“We know that such issues are discussed without any such release of information,” Kremlin spokesperson Dmitry Peskov told reporters during a conference call. “Normally, the public learns about it when the agreements are already implemented.”
He then emphasized that “no agreements have been finalized.” Peskov declined to give further details.
Separately, Russian Foreign Ministry spokesperson Maria Zakharova said Russian and U.S. officials have been conducting negotiations but “there has been no concrete result yet.”
“We proceed from the assumption that interests of both parties should be taken into account during the negotiations,” Zakharova said.
Meanwhile, Griner’s defense team issued a statement that they had learned about the negotiations from the news and have not participated in the discussions.
“In any case, we would be really happy if Brittney will be able to come home and hope it will be soon,” lawyers Maria Blagovolina and Alexander Boikov said in a statement.
The WNBA star did not have her rights read to her upon her February arrest, she testified at her trial in Russian court. Griner faces up to 10 years in prison for drug charges.
She received an incomplete translation after her arrest, she said, and was told to sign documents without knowing what they meant, the Associated Press reported.
While Griner pleaded guilty to the charges against her earlier this month, she told the court she did not intend to bring the vape cartridges with cannabis oil found in her luggage into Russia. The prosecution is arguing that the 0.702 grams of cannabis oil found in the cartridges is a “significant” amount, the Washington Post reported.
“I still don’t understand how they ended up in my bag,” she said, according to the Washington Post. “I had no intention to break the law.”
Also on Wednesday, Secretary of State Antony Blinken revealed that the U.S. government has offered Russia a prisoner swap in exchange for Griner and Whelan.
“We communicated a substantial offer that we believe could be successful based on a history of conversations with the Russians,” a senior administration official told CNN.
Griner’s trial will resume Tuesday.
Griner’s trial resumed Tuesday after a break of more than a week. The defense focused Tuesday on the medical use of cannabis, and Griner’s lawyers previously had submitted a doctor’s letter recommending to the basketball player the use of cannabis for pain management.
“We are not arguing that Brittney took it here as a medicine,” said Alexander Boikov, one of Griner’s lawyers. “We are still saying that she involuntarily brought it here because she was in a rush.”
Rather, the testimony on medical cannabis use is aimed at earning a mild sentence for Griner, the Associated Press reported.
“We have a lot of mitigating factors. So we do hope that the court will take it into consideration. And the courts in Russia, in fact, have very broad discretion with regard to the sentence,” said Maria Blagovolina, another lawyer for Griner.
A spokesperson for Russia’s Foreign Ministry lashed out at the U.S. for classifying Griner as “wrongfully detained.”
Maria Zakharova, who spoke on behalf of the Russian Foreign Ministry, said that it shows disrespect for Russian law. She also said the legalization of cannabis in the United States for both medical and recreational use does not matter in Russia.
“If a U.S. citizen was taken in connection with the fact that she was smuggling drugs, and she does not deny this, then this should be commensurate with our Russian, local laws, and not with those adopted in San Francisco, New York and Washington,” Zakharova said.
“You understand, if drugs are legalized in the United States, in a number of states, and this is done for a long time, and now the whole country will become drug-addicted, this does not mean that all other countries are following the same path.”
The statement comes after the ESPYs honored Griner and multiple athletes called on their fellow athletes to increase their calls for her release.
Also on Thursday, the United States Senate introduced a bipartisan resolution calling for Griner’s immediate release.
Similar to the one passed in the House of Representatives in June, the resolution was written by Sen. Mark Kelly and Sen. Kyrsten Sinema, both Democrats from Arizona, as well as Sen. Ron Wyden (D-Oregon) and Sen. John Cornyn (R-Texas).
“I’ve worked with the State Department to make sure that Brittney Griner’s safe return is a top priority, and this bipartisan resolution shows the Senate’s support for her as well,” Kelly said in a statement. “Brittney Griner is an inspiration to Arizonans and Americans across the country. I’ve had the pleasure of meeting her and seeing her talent on the court up close. The Russian government unjustly detained Brittney and we will keep working with the administration to ensure her safe and swift return.”
Part of the resolution states that the United Sates, during all interactions with Russia, should “raise the case of Brittney Griner and push for her release.” Support for Griner’s family was also offered, as well as for Whelan, another American detainee.
The resolution also calls on Russia to “provide consular access” to Griner and respect her human rights.
“Arizonans have love and admiration for Brittney Griner both on and off the court,” said Sen. Sinema in a statement. “The Department of State has determined that Brittney was wrongfully detained — it’s past time for her to come home.”
The Russian Foreign Ministry warned Washington about putting pressure on Moscow over prisoner exchanges.
Spokeswoman Maria Zakharova called the efforts “futile” while claiming that U.S. officials were attempting to use the pressure as leverage.
“We urge the U.S. authorities not to exploit this sensitive matter affecting the fates of certain individuals, and we advise them to abandon futile attempts to pressure us,” Zakharova said, saying that Washington needed to “work through established channels.”
“It simply won’t work any other way,” she said.
It’s the second such warning from Russia in eight days as Griner’s trial continues. The WNBA star appeared in court again Thursday after pleading guilty last week to carrying hashish oil in her luggage.
UMMC Ekaterinburg director Maksim Rybakov, team captain Evgeniya Belyakova and a team doctor all testified on Griner’s behalf Thursday.
Rybakov reportedly testified to Griner’s “outstanding abilities as a player and personal contribution to the strengthening the team’s spirit,” according to Griner’s lawyer, Maria Blagovolina.
Belyakova, meanwhile, called Griner “the heart of our team.” She also called Griner’s contribution to Russian basketball “invaluable.”
Later, outside the court, Belyakova told reporters, “We miss her very much. We miss her energy.”
The WNBA star pleaded guilty to drug charges in Russian court. Detained since February for the alleged possession of hashish oil, she faces up to 10 years in prison for charges of “large-scale transportation of drugs.”
Griner reportedly told a judge Thursday that she had brought drugs into the country “inadvertently” and asked for mercy.
“I was in a rush packing and the cartridges accidentally ended up in my bags,” she said.
In a statement, her legal team said that they hope the judge will take into account the fact that she took full accountability for her actions.
“Considering the nature of her case, the insignificant amount of the substance and BG’s personality and history of positive contributions to global and Russian sport, the defense hopes that the plea will be considered by the court as a mitigating factor and there will be no severe sentence,” they wrote.
President Joe Biden and Vice President Kamala Harris spoke on the phone with Griner’s wife Cherelle Griner.
“The president called Cherelle to reassure her that he is working to secure Brittney’s release as soon as possible,” the White House said in a statement.
During the call, Biden also shared a draft of a letter he plans to send to the WNBA star. She had written a letter to Biden, which her representatives passed on to the White House on Monday.
Griner wrote a letter to Biden advocating for her freedom. Her representatives delivered the letter to the White House and also released excerpts to the public.
“As I sit here in a Russian prison, alone with my thoughts and without the protection of my wife, family, friends, Olympic jersey, or any accomplishments, I’m terrified I might be here forever,” Griner wrote.
Griner’s trial, which began Friday, was adjourned until the following Thursday after several witnesses reportedly failed to appear before the Russian court.
Griner appeared on June 27 at a court in the Moscow suburb of Khimki, where her detention was extended for an additional six months, a switch from her original order to remain in pretrial detention until July 2.
The U.S. House of Representatives passed a bipartisan resolution calling for the release of Griner from Russian custody.
“Not a day goes by that we aren’t thinking of Brittney and working to get her home,” said Democratic Rep. Greg Stanton of Arizona, who sponsored the resolution. “We will continue to push for her release and make sure that she is not forgotten.”
Griner and wife Cherelle were meant to speak on the phone on Sunday — their anniversary — but were unable to do so. Cherelle said Monday that despite trying to call her wife nearly a dozen times, the U.S. Embassy’s desk was unstaffed so the call went unanswered.
The couple has not spoken by phone since before Griner’s arrest.
Brittney reportedly had tried to call 11 times over several hours.
“I was distraught. I was hurt. I was done, fed up,” Cherelle Griner told the Associated Press. “I’m pretty sure I texted BG’s agent and was like: ‘I don’t want to talk to anybody. It’s going to take me a minute to get my emotions together, and just tell everybody I’m unavailable right now.’ Because it just knocked me out. I wasn’t well, I’m still not well.”
On Monday, the State Department said they “deeply regret that Brittney Griner was unable to speak with her wife because of a logistical error.” On Tuesday, State Department spokesman Ned Price called it a “logistical error.” He later said that the problem was exacerbated by the fact that staffing limitations have been placed on the embassy and its operations by the Russian government.
Another senior State Department official said that the call was meant to route through the Marine Guard station, which is staffed, but it was re-routed to an unstaffed location.
White House press secretary Karine Jean-Pierre, in speaking with reporters, said that the State Department was working on arranging a new call. There is no word on when that will be.
“This was an unfortunate mistake,” Jean-Pierre said Tuesday, adding that, “the Department of State is working to rectify this as quickly as possible.”
Cherelle added that the error was “unacceptable” and that the phone call had been scheduled for two weeks. During that time, nobody made her aware of the staffing hours. The desk is normally staffed Monday through Fridays but not on the weekends.
“I have zero trust in our government right now,” she said. “If I can’t trust you to catch a Saturday call outside of business hours, how can I trust you to actually be negotiating on my wife’s behalf to come home? Because that’s a much bigger ask than to catch a Saturday call.”
Russian state media outlet TASS reported that Griner’s detention has been extended through at least July 2, according to ABC News. So she will remain in custody for at least 18 more days. This marks the third time that her detention has been extended.
State Department officials met with the Phoenix Mercury regarding the detention of Griner in Russia. The State Department confirmed the meeting, which included officials from the office tasked with helping Americans who have been wrongfully detained or are considered to be hostages.
“It was great to hear from the State Department that we should continue to amplify that message and that we should continue to press all those who have any influence or power to help bring BG home,” Mercury coach Vanessa Nygaard said. “She’s our teammate, she’s an American and we want her back home.”
Cherelle Griner, wife of Brittney Griner, is calling on President Biden and U.S. officials to act.
In an interview with “Good Morning America” co-anchor Robin Roberts that aired Wednesday, Cherelle Griner pressed for urgency around her wife’s case.
“I just keep hearing that he has the power,” Griner said of Biden. “She’s a political pawn. So if they’re holding her because they want you to do something, then I want you to do it.”
Ned Price, a State Department spokesperson, said Friday that a consular officer was able to gain access to Griner for the second time in a week. A visit occurred on Thursday in which the official “found her continuing to do as well as could be expected under these exceedingly challenging circumstances.”
“But again, our message is a clear and simple one — we continue to insist that Russia allow consistent and timely consular access to all U.S. citizen detainees,” Price said in a briefing. “One-off visits are not sufficient, and we will continue to call on Moscow to uphold its commitments under the Vienna Convention for consistent and timely access as well.”
According to ESPN, sources close to Griner have said that her lawyers have been able to see her at least once a week.
According to a senior State Department official, Blinken has spoken with Cherelle Griner, Brittney Griner’s wife. Blinken told Cherelle Griner that Brittney’s release has his full attention.
Also on Tuesday, the U.S. Embassy said it has been denied visits to Griner three times in the month of May. Griner’s agent Lindsay Kawagawa Colas said this proves that the athlete is being “used as a political bargaining chip.”
“No athlete representing any country should have to travel in fear of being taken and used as a negotiating tool,” she wrote on Twitter . “We must protect the sanctity of sport and the entire global sports community should stand together and demand Brittney Griner’s release.”
NBA commissioner Adam Silver spoke with ESPN’s Malika Andrews, saying that the league has been in touch with “every level of government” as well as contacts in the private sector as it lends its support to the efforts to return Griner to the United States.
“Our No. 1 priority is her health and safety and making sure that she gets out of Russia,” he said.
He added that the league is working “side by side” with the WNBA for her release.
Following the reclassification of Griner’s case, players and others increased their calls to bring her home. The WNBPA signed on to a petition on Change.org calling on U.S. officials to prioritize her safe return.
As of May 17, the petition had 136,525 signatures.
Griner’s detention was extended by a month. According to ESPN’s T.J. Quinn, she was meant to appear in court on May 19, but the date was moved up suddenly. Alexander Boikov, Griner’s lawyer, told the Associated Press that he believed that the short extension meant the case would come to trial soon.
A request by Griner to move to home detention was denied.
According to an ESPN report, the U.S. government changed Griner’s case status and deemed her “wrongfully detained” by the Russian government. As a result, the U.S. government can be involved in negotiating her release.
In addition, the WNBA announced that roster and salary cap relief would be provided to the Mercury, allowing them to bring on a replacement player. Griner will still receive her full salary.
WNBA commissioner Cathy Engelbert said the league is “working diligently” to bring Griner home and that they are working “every angle.”
“This is an unimaginable situation for BG to be in,” she said. “She continues to have our full support. She’s just been such a great person in the league that I can’t be any more real about the situation she’s in.”
For the first time, U.S. consular officials were allowed to visit Griner in Russia, with a State Department spokesperson confirming that she was well — but her bunk was about a foot too short for the 6-f00t-9 basketball player.
Griner also reportedly communicated with her family via attorneys.
Russian news agency TASS reported that Griner’s detention would be extended until at least May 19. According to TASS, the extension was meant to allow time for an investigation into the incident.
According to CNN, Griner’s legal team was in contact with Griner and she was well.
U.S. Rep. Colin Allred (D-Texas) spoke about Griner, saying that the Biden administration is “working hard” to get access to the Mercury star and help her.
“But obviously, it’s also happening in the context of really strained relations,” he said. “I do think that it’s really unusual that we’ve not been granted access to her from our embassy and our consular services.”
Allred added that the Russian criminal justice system is different from the system in the U.S. He referred to it as “opaque.”
“We don’t have a lot of insight into where she is in that process right now,” he said. “But she’s been held for three weeks now, and that’s extremely concerning.”
Russian state television aired a booking photo of Griner taken at a Russian police station, the first photo to be released since Griner’s arrest. She can be seen holding up a piece of paper with her name on it.
Russian state TV has released a photo of WNBA star Brittney Griner, who was arrested on drug charges in the country after Russian officials say cannabis oil was found in her luggage. CNN's @RosaFlores has the story. pic.twitter.com/SzB9MSSQfY— CNN (@CNN) March 8, 2022
Russian state TV has released a photo of WNBA star Brittney Griner, who was arrested on drug charges in the country after Russian officials say cannabis oil was found in her luggage. CNN's @RosaFlores has the story. pic.twitter.com/SzB9MSSQfY
While it was unclear when the photo was taken, it was reportedly taken at a Moscow police station.
U.S. Senator Lindsey Graham told TMZ that he “very much” worries about the WNBA star and other Americans currently in Russia. He added that he knows “the State Department is involved.”
“We need to put all the pressure we can to make sure this young lady comes home,” he said.
Griner’s wife Cherelle took to Instagram, where she said that her family is “hurting.”
“There’s not a task in this world that could keep any of us from worrying about you,” she wrote to Griner.
View this post on Instagram A post shared by 𝐂𝐇𝐄𝐑𝐄𝐋𝐋𝐄 𝐓. 𝐆𝐑𝐈𝐍𝐄𝐑 (@cherelletgriner)
A post shared by 𝐂𝐇𝐄𝐑𝐄𝐋𝐋𝐄 𝐓. 𝐆𝐑𝐈𝐍𝐄𝐑 (@cherelletgriner)
U.S. Secretary of State Antony Blinken said that the State Department stands “ready to provide every possible assistance” to Americans detained “anywhere in the world.”
“There’s only so much I can say given the privacy considerations at this point,” Blinken said of Griner. “We have an embassy team that’s working on the cases of other Americans who are detained in Russia. We’re doing everything we can to see to it that their rights are upheld and respected.”
Additionally a WNBA spokesperson said that as a result of Russia’s invasion of Ukraine all league players other than Griner had exited both countries.
The New York Times and TASS broke the news of Griner’s detainment. Customs service from the airport where she was arrested released a video of an individual who appeared to be Griner going through security and having her bags searched.
At this point, Griner had been in Russian custody for a little over two weeks. According to a statement released by the Russian Federal Customs Service and obtained by the New York Times, a criminal case was opened into the “large-scale transportation of drugs.”
While her detainment did not become public knowledge until weeks later, she was arrested in February, Allred revealed when speaking about Griner on March 9.
Customs officials at an airport outside Moscow allegedly found hashish oil in Griner’s luggage. Griner was traveling to play for Russian club UMMC Ekaterinburg.