Brittney Griner: WNBA players urge safe return of 'wrongfully detained' star

Brittney Griner in action for Phoenix Mercury

Brittney Griner has been “wrongfully detained” by the Russian government, the USA stated earlier this week.

The WNBA star, who plays for Russian team UMMC Ekaterinburg during the off-season, was arrested at the Sheremetyevo Alexander S Pushkin International Airport in February under drug charges.

She was reportedly stopped and found with vape cartridges containing cannabis oil in her luggage, which is an illegal substance in Russia.

Griner, a double Olympic champion and seven-time WNBA All-Star, faces up to 10 years in prison if found guilty of bringing drugs into Russia, but US officials are now working more aggressively to secure her release.

Initially, President Biden’s administration had been prioritising Griner’s access to American consular affairs officials while in detention.

After being held for more than two months, supervision of her case has now moved to the Office of the Special Presidential Envoy for Hostage Affairs — a State Department focusing on negotiating the release of American individuals ruled as being wrongfully detained in other countries.

“Brittney has been detained for 75 days and our expectation is that the White House do whatever is necessary to bring her home,” said Griner’s agent Lindsay Kagawa Colas.

Brittney Griner #42 of the Phoenix Mercury stands on the court during Game Two of the 2021 WNBA Playoffs semifinals at Michelob ULTRA Arena on September 30, 2021 in Las Vegas, Nevada. (Photo by Ethan Miller/Getty Images)

Griner has received support in abundance from the WNBA since she was arrested. The league has promised to keep the Phoenix Mercury star at “the forefront of what we do through the game of basketball and in the community.”

Her initials and jersey number will be displayed along the sidelines of all 12 WNBA courts during the 2022 season, which tips off on May 6th.

Fellow WNBA stars including Breanna Stewart have called for the government to step up their efforts and bring Griner home safely.

“It has been 75 days since our friend, Brittney Griner, has been wrongfully detained in Russia. It is time for her to come home. @WhiteHouse, we are paying attention and we are counting on you,” the two-time WNBA Finals MVP tweeted.

Griner’s teammate Brianna Turner echoed the sentiment.

“It has been 75 days that our friend, teammate, sister, Brittney Griner, has been wrongfully detained in Russia. It is time for her to come home. Know that we are watching. We are paying attention,” she wrote.

Turner had previously posted a photo of her and Griner, stating she was “at a loss for words” over the situation.

Six-time WNBA All-Star and former league MVP Nneka Ogwumike also openly discussed the ruling of Griner’s ‘wrongful detainment.’

The Los Angeles Sparks star also said it is time for Griner to come home and hopes the US government’s efforts “will be significant, swift and successful.”

While it remains unclear what prompted the government to shift its approach in the case, President Biden’s administration has reportedly been under pressure from members of Congress to prioritise her release from Russian jail.

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