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One of the biggest stories of the WNBA season is unfolding off the court, as Phoenix Mercury star Brittney Griner has been detained in Russia since February.
Griner was taken into custody in a Moscow airport 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.
In the days and weeks since her arrest, fans, teammates and the WNBA have been outspoken about bringing Griner home. Just Women’s Sports has a timeline of the events as they have been reported.
The U.S. House of Representatives passed a bipartisan resolution calling for the release of Brittney 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.”
Brittney Griner and wife Cherelle Griner 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, the 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 Brittney 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
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.
Brittney 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.
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.”
That can carry a prison sentence of up to 10 years in Russia.
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.
Adding Atlanta's AD Durr to your fantasy roster could be a good place to start.
The 36-year-old played with Chicago for seven seasons.
Griner's detention has also been extended.
Chicago's victory extends its win streak to three games.
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