U.S. State Department officials met on Monday with Brittney Griner’s W.N.B.A. team, the Phoenix Mercury, to debate the status of Griner’s monthslong detainment in Russia and efforts made toward securing her release.
Griner, one in every of the W.N.B.A.’s most recognizable stars, has been held in Russia since Feb. 17, after customs officials accused her of carrying hashish oil in her luggage at an airport near Moscow.
In May, the State Department said it determined that Griner had been “wrongfully detained.”
“It’s something that we’ve all talked about intimately as a gaggle, and now knowing the State Department at the best level, from U.S. President Joe Biden to the team that’s working on bringing back all Americans who’re wrongfully detained, gives us numerous confidence that they’re working on it,” Diana Taurasi, the Mercury’s star guard, said in a press release. “Anything that we are able to do on our side to amplify and to place B.G. first will probably be our primary priority.”
The meeting included representatives from the State Department, including the Office of the Special Presidential Envoy for Hostage Affairs, based on a department spokesman. After, members of the Mercury spoke with Representatives Greg Stanton, Democrat of Arizona, and Sheila Jackson Lee, Democrat of Texas. In May, Stanton, Jackson Lee and Representative Colin Allred, Democrat of Texas, introduced a resolution calling for Griner’s release.
The Mercury are in Washington to play the Mystics on Tuesday.
Mercury forward Brianna Turner said officials encouraged the team to proceed talking publicly about Griner.
“They encouraged us to maintain speaking her name, to maintain holding them accountable to bring B.G. back home as soon as possible,” Turner said in a press release.
Griner was returning to Russia to play for UMMC Yekaterinburg, an expert women’s basketball team, when she was detained. Many W.N.B.A. players complement their incomes within the league’s off-season by playing internationally, where the top-tier athletes can draw salaries of around $1 million.
The drug charges carry a penalty of as much as 10 years in prison if Griner is convicted in Russia.
Initially, Griner’s supporters spoke little publicly in regards to the detainment, fearing her situation would turn out to be a part of the larger global conflict involving Russia’s invasion of Ukraine and the USA’ strained relationship with Russia.
That strategy shifted after the State Department declared Griner had been “wrongfully detained” days after Russia exchanged Trevor R. Reed, a former U.S. Marine who had been sentenced to nine years in prison for assault, in a prisoner swap.
Reed’s freedom raised hopes for the releases of Griner and Paul N. Whelan, a former U.S. Marine who was sentenced in Russia to 16 years in prison on espionage charges.
What to Know About Brittney Griner’s Detention in Russia
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Why was she in Russia? Griner was in Russia playing for a world team through the W.N.B.A. off-season. Trading rest for overseas competition is common among the many league’s players for a lot of reasons, but often the most important motivation is money.
Does this have anything to do with Ukraine? Griner’s detention comes during an inflamed standoff between Russia and the USA over Russia’s invasion of Ukraine, but it surely continues to be unclear whether Russia might need targeted Griner as leverage against the USA.
How is the USA approaching the situation? In March, U.S. officials were finally in a position to see Griner and said she is doing well. Weeks later, the State Department subsequently said that it had determined she was “wrongfully detained,” adding that an interagency team would work to have her released.
In May, Cherelle Griner, Brittney Griner’s wife, appeared on “Good Morning America” and appealed to President Biden to intervene.
“I just keep hearing that he has the facility,” Cherelle Griner said. “She’s a political pawn. In the event that they’re holding her because they need you to do something, then I need you to do it.”
Brittney Griner’s supporters have followed in vocalizing their support for her release. Many W.N.B.A. players have worn T-shirts and hoodies in support of Griner, and her initials are displayed on the courts for all 12 W.N.B.A. teams.
Penny Taylor, Taurasi’s wife and one in every of Griner’s former teammates, used her induction into the Women’s Basketball Hall of Fame last week to ask for Griner’s release.
“B.G. is our family,” Taylor said. “She’s yours, too. The whole global sport community needs to come back together to insist that she be a priority.”