U.S. State Department officials met with Brittney Griner’s WNBA team, the Phoenix Mercury, on Monday to discuss the status of Griner’s months-long detention in Russia and efforts to secure his release.
Griner, one of the WNBA’s most recognizable stars, has been detained in Russia since February 17, after customs officials accused her of carrying hash oil in her luggage at an airport near Moscow. .
In May, the State Department said it determined Griner had been “wrongfully detained.”
“It’s something we’ve all talked about intimately as a group, and now know the State Department at the highest level, from US President Joe Biden to the team working to bring back all wrongfully detained Americans, gives us an idea a lot of confidence that they are working on it,” Mercury star guard Diana Taurasi said in a statement. “Anything we can do on our end to amplify and prioritize BG will be our priority. #1.”
The meeting included representatives from the State Department, including the Office of the President’s Special Envoy for Hostage Affairs, according to a department spokesperson. Next, Mercury members spoke with Representatives Greg Stanton, Democrat of Arizona, and Sheila Jackson Lee, Democrat of Texas. In May, Stanton, Jackson Lee and Rep. Colin Allred, Democrat of Texas, introduced a resolution calling for Griner’s release.
The Mercurys are in Washington to face the Mystics on Tuesday.
Mercury forward Brianna Turner said officials encouraged the team to continue to speak publicly about Griner.
“They encouraged us to continue speaking his name, to continue to hold them accountable to bring BG home as soon as possible,” Turner said in a statement.
Griner was returning to Russia to play for UMMC Yekaterinburg, a professional women’s basketball team, when she was arrested. Many WNBA players supplement their income during the league’s offseason by playing internationally, where top athletes can earn salaries of around $1 million.
The drug charges carry a sentence of up to 10 years in prison if Griner is convicted in Russia.
Initially, Griner supporters spoke little publicly about the detention, fearing his situation was part of the larger global conflict involving Russia’s invasion of Ukraine and strained US relations with Russia.
That strategy changed after the State Department said Griner had been “wrongfully detained” days after Russia traded Trevor R. Reed, a former U.S. Marine sentenced to nine years in prison for assault. during a prisoner exchange.
Reed’s freedom raised hopes for the release of Griner and Paul N. Whelan, a former U.S. Marine sentenced in Russia to 16 years in prison for espionage.
In May, Cherelle Griner, wife of Brittney Griner, appeared on “Good Morning America” and called on President Biden to intervene.
“I keep hearing he has the power,” Cherelle Griner said. “He is a political pawn. If they’re holding her because they want you to do something, then I want you to do it.
Brittney Griner supporters followed by expressing support for her release. Many WNBA players have worn t-shirts and hoodies in support of Griner, and his initials are displayed on the courts for all 12 WNBA teams.
Penny Taylor, Taurasi’s wife and one of Griner’s former teammates, used her induction into the Women’s Basketball Hall of Fame last week to call for Griner’s release.
“BG is our family,” Taylor said. “She is also yours. The entire global sporting community must come together to insist that it be a priority.
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