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WNBA to honor Brittney Griner as U.S. reportedly shifts her case

(Jeff Bottari/NBAE via Getty Images)

The U.S. government now considers WNBA star Brittney Griner to be wrongfully detained by the Russian government, ESPN reported Tuesday.

The change in classification signals a shift in U.S officials’ approach to Griner’s case and how she will be brought home. Instead of waiting for Griner’s case to play out in the Russian legal system, the U.S. government will aim to negotiate the Phoenix Mercury center’s return home.

Griner’s case has been handled delicately thus far, but the change in designation means WNBA players and U.S. congresspeople will have the go-ahead from Griner’s family to bring public attention to her detainment.

“We feel really good about it,” a source close to Griner told ESPN. “But we also know it can drag out, so we don’t want to get our hopes too high.”

A State Department official sent ESPN a statement Monday night, saying, “The Department of State has determined that the Russian Federation has wrongfully detained U.S. citizen Brittney Griner. With this determination, the Special Presidential Envoy for Hostage Affairs Roger Carstens will lead the interagency team for securing Brittney Griner’s release.”

Griner, who was playing in Russia during the WNBA offseason, was arrested while moving through a Russian airport, with prosecutors claiming she was in possession of vape cartridges containing hashish oil.

The WNBA will honor Griner with a floor decal featuring her initials and number on the sidelines of all 12 teams throughout the regular season, the league announced Tuesday.

“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,” WNBA commissioner Cathy Engelbert said in a statement.

The league also has granted the Phoenix Mercury roster and salary cap relief so the team can carry a replacement player until Griner returns to the court. Griner still will be paid her full salary while in detainment.