U.S. State Department officials met with Brittney Griner’s Phoenix Mercury WNBA team Monday to discuss the status of Griner’s months-long incarceration in Russia and efforts to secure her release.
Griner, one of the WNBA’s most prominent stars, has been held in Russia since February 17 after customs officials accused her of having hash oil in her luggage at an airport near Moscow.
In May, the State Department said it had found Griner “wrongly detained.”
“It’s something we’ve all talked about extensively as a group, and now knowing the State Department at the highest level, from US President Joe Biden to the team working to bring back all wrongfully imprisoned Americans, gives us a lot Trust them to work on it,” Diana Taurasi, the Mercury’s star guard, said in a statement. “Anything we can do on our side to strengthen BG and put it first will be our top priority.”
According to a ministry spokesman, the meeting was attended by representatives from the State Department, including the Office of the President’s Special Envoy for Hostage Affairs. Afterwards, 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 Texas Democrat Rep. Colin Allred 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 have encouraged the team to continue speaking publicly about Griner.
“They encouraged us to keep speaking their name and holding them accountable to get BG home as soon as possible,” Turner said in a statement.
Griner was returning to Russia to play for UMMC Yekaterinburg, a women’s professional basketball team, when she was arrested. Many WNBA players supplement their income during the league’s off-season 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’s supporters spoke little publicly about the imprisonment, fearing that her situation would become part of the larger global conflict that includes Russia’s invasion of Ukraine and the United States’ strained relationship with Russia.
That strategy changed after the State Department said Griner was “wrongly detained” days after Russia exchanged Trevor R. Reed, a former US Marine who had been sentenced to nine years in prison for assault, in a prisoner swap.
Reed’s release raised hopes for the release of Griner and Paul N. Whelan, a former US Marine who was sentenced to 16 years in Russia on espionage charges.
In May, Cherelle Griner, wife of Brittney Griner, appeared on Good Morning America and called on President Biden to intervene.
“I keep hearing that he has the power,” Cherelle Griner said. “She is a political pawn. If they hold her because they want you to do something, then I want you to do it.”
Brittney Griner’s supporters have expressed their support for her release. Many WNBA players have worn t-shirts and hoodies in support of Griner, and their initials appear on the courts of 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’s yours too. The entire global sports community needs to come together to insist that it is a priority.”
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