It has been 4 months and counting since WNBA star, Olympic gold medalist, and Houston native Brittney Griner was detained and taken into custody in Moscow, Russia. On Tuesday, May 3, 2022, the Biden administration expressed a reclassification of Griner’s detainment in Russia as “wrongful.”
A State Department official sent a statement to ESPN late Monday night, saying, “The Department of State has determined that the Russian Federation has wrongfully detained U.S. citizen Brittney Griner. With this determination, the Special Presidential Envoy for Hostage Affairs Roger Carstens will lead the interagency team for securing Brittney Griner’s release.”
The State Department previously had not said much about Griner’s arrest which took place days before Russia invaded Ukraine. There has been speculation that the State Department didn’t get involved sooner to avoid Griner becoming a political prisoner under the rule of Russian President Vladimir Putin.
It is not uncommon for WNBA players to play overseas as the pay is better than it is in the United States. Griner, who plays professionally overseas during the WNBA offseason with the Russian team UMMC Ekaterinburg, was arrested in an airport after personnel searched her luggage and discovered hashish oil.
The “wrongfully detained” reclassification means that the United States government will make efforts to negotiate her release instead of waiting around to see her case play out through the Russian courts.
Griner was granted consular access in March and at that time was checked on by a U.S. official. Her mental state was reported by Ekaterina Kalugina of the Public Monitoring Commission as “calm” and the conditions with which she was being detained were described as “standard.”
Lindsay Kagawa Colas, Griner’s agent, made a statement to ESPN saying, “Brittney has been detained for 75 days and our expectation is that the White House will do whatever is necessary to bring her home.”
Griners’s absence was palpable as the WNBA began their season on May 6th. The WNBA is throwing their support behind the Phoenix Mercury center Griner in their own way.
Via WNBA Official Release
The WNBA announced plans to acknowledge the importance of Phoenix Mercury center Brittney Griner to the league. During the 2022 season, which tips off on Friday, May 6, Griner’s initials and jersey number (42) will be featured along the sideline of all 12 WNBA courts.
“As we begin the 2022 season, we are keeping Brittney at the forefront of what we do through the game of basketball and in the community,” said WNBA Commissioner Cathy Engelbert. “We continue to work on bringing Brittney home and are appreciative of the support the community has shown BG and her family during this extraordinarily challenging time.”
The below image demonstrates the design of Griner’s initials and jersey number that will be placed on each WNBA court.
The league also announced today that the Phoenix Mercury have been granted both roster and salary cap relief so that it can carry a replacement player until Griner, who will be paid her full salary, returns home and is ready to get back on the court.
As previously announced by the Mercury, philanthropic initiatives recognizing Griner and modeled after her contributions to the Phoenix community will take place across the WNBA during tip-off weekend into the 2022 season. Every WNBA market will support BG’s Heart and Sole Shoe Drive, which is in partnership with the Phoenix Rescue Mission. Griner founded the initiative in 2016 to support the homeless population.
“In conjunction with the league, the other 11 teams, and those closest to BG, we will work to keep her top-of-mind as we tip the 2022 season,” said Jim Pitman, Executive Vice President and General Manager, Phoenix Mercury. “While we await her return, our main concern remains for her safety and well-being. Our fans will miss her impact on the court and in our community, and this gesture of including her initials on every court and our BG’s Heart and Sole Shoe Drive activation in every market are for them and for her.”
Here’s hoping the State Department’s involvement expedites Griner’s safe return home.