For the primary time shortly, Terri Jackson, the chief director of the W.N.B.A. players’ union, felt hopeful about Brittney Griner.
Griner’s wife, Cherelle Griner, had spoken on the phone with President Biden and Vice President Kamala Harris on Wednesday morning. That evening, Jackson attended a rally to support Brittney Griner on the Footprint Center arena in Phoenix. It had been hosted by the Phoenix Mercury and Representative Greg Stanton, Democrat of Arizona, with a whole lot of Griner’s supporters readily available.
“It was emotional, it was a celebration, it was a renewed hope and renewed spirit,” Jackson said. “And yet, we’re very mindful that we are usually not near the tip.”
Jackson spoke Thursday afternoon, hours after Brittney Griner pleaded guilty to drug charges in a court near Moscow. Griner, the star Mercury center, has been detained in Russia since Feb. 17, accused of getting hashish oil in her luggage at a Russian airport. Her trial on the drug charges began on July 1. But despite her guilty plea on Thursday, the support she has received from her representatives, friends, family, teammates and others has not waned.
“I believe it made us more resolved to reveal our support for her and to acknowledge that Russia’s process is its own,” Jackson said. “It’s nothing like ours. And yet try to remain hopeful that there’s some forward progress to getting her home.”
Griner’s agent, Lindsay Kagawa Colas, called Griner a “model of courage” in an announcement on Twitter on Thursday.
“BG’s service as an Olympian and global sport ambassador, caring for those most in need, has at all times distinguished her; but BG can also be a human being whose family misses her,” Kagawa Colas said. “She deserves our compassion, understanding, love and support.”
Representative Colin Allred, Democrat of Texas, who has been working to secure Griner’s release, urged caution in reacting to her guilty plea, calling her prosecution a “sham trial” on Twitter.
“Keep in mind that we should always not draw any serious conclusions from this and that she was wrongfully detained in the primary place,” Allred said.
W.N.B.A. Commissioner Cathy Engelbert released an announcement Thursday afternoon.
“Brittney Griner stays wrongfully detained in Russia, and nothing that happened today changes that 140 days later,” Engelbert said. She added: “She has the wholehearted and unconditional support of the complete W.N.B.A. and N.B.A. family, who eagerly await her secure return.”
The U.S. State Department first announced that Griner had been classified as “wrongfully detained” in May and said it could look to barter her release whatever the results of her trial.
On Thursday, a Russian diplomat suggested to reporters in Moscow that the general public clamor about Griner’s release — which he attributed to the Biden administration — was detrimental to getting a deal done.
Griner’s supporters, though, have long believed that calling public attention to her situation was vital to get the eye of the Biden administration. After the State Department classified Griner as wrongfully detained, her closest supporters began to feel comfortable drawing attention to her detention. Many fans have been vocal since February.
Starting in early May, Kagawa Colas joined with Griner’s family, the W.N.B.A. and its players’ union and the Mercury to begin an advocacy campaign with the hashtag #WeAreBG. Several W.N.B.A. and N.B.A. players began speaking out about Griner’s situation. The N.B.A.’s Boston Celtics wore T-shirts that said #WeAreBG during one N.B.A. finals practice.
In June, Kagawa Colas coordinated with dozens of organizations that represent people of color, women and members of the L.G.B.T.Q. community to send a letter to Biden and Harris urging them to make a deal to bring Griner home.
On Thursday, the W.N.B.A. players’ union released an announcement that positioned the organization alongside those groups.
The Plight of Brittney Griner in Russia
The American basketball star has endured months in a Russian prison on charges of smuggling hashish oil into the country.
“The administration must know that this powerful collective is behind them and supports whatever must be done to get B.G., Paul Whelan and other detained U.S. nationals home straight away,” the statement read.
Whelan is a former U.S. Marine who has been detained in Russia since 2018. He was convicted of espionage in a Russian court in 2020.
This weekend, the W.N.B.A. will host its All-Star Game and other competitions in Chicago. They’re an annual celebration of the league’s best players, and Griner has been chosen as an All-Star seven times. The league named her as an honorary starter for the All-Star Game on Sunday.
“Sends a really, very strong message from the league recognizing that we’re missing not only considered one of the sport’s biggest, brightest stars but a person who’s just very necessary to us outside of this game,” Jackson said.
Before the sport, the Rev. Al Sharpton announced he would hold a news conference on Friday in Chicago with Cherelle Griner, Jackson and Los Angeles Sparks forward Nneka Ogwumike, who’s the president of the players’ union.
“Brittney has admitted to creating a mistake, and I hope the Russian authorities recognize that humbling act and respond with compassion,” Sharpton said in an announcement. “She is within the fight of her life straight away, which is why we’ll be in Chicago to point out our support for Brittney and for the administration and their efforts to bring her home as soon as possible. We must all proceed to wish she finds strength through this difficult time.”
The W.N.B.A. players’ union sometimes calls its membership The 144 — a reference to the 12 players on each of the 12 teams within the league. Jackson noted that the All-Star Game would happen on the 143rd day of Griner’s detention.
“It reminds us all — not less than those of us who’ve engaged on this frustrating strategy of counting the times — it reminds us that we are usually not The 144 without Brittney Griner,” Jackson said. She added: “The symbolism of that just isn’t lost on any considered one of us.”