By Jonathan Abrams
U.S. State Department officials met earlier this week with Brittney Griner’s WNBA team, the Phoenix Mercury, to discuss the status of Griner’s monthslong detainment in Russia and efforts made toward securing her release.
Griner, one of the WNBA’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 group, and now knowing the State Department at the highest level, from U.S. President Joe Biden to the team that is working on bringing back all Americans who are wrongfully detained, gives us a lot of confidence that they’re working on it,” Diana Taurasi, the Mercury’s star guard, said in a statement. “Anything that we can do on our side to amplify and to put B.G. first will be our No. 1 priority.”
Monday’s meeting included representatives from the State Department, including the Office of the Special Presidential Envoy for Hostage Affairs, according to a department spokesperson. After, members of the Mercury spoke with Reps. Greg Stanton, D-Ariz., and Sheila Jackson Lee, D-Texas. In May, Stanton, Jackson Lee and Rep. Colin Allred, D-Texas, introduced a resolution calling for Griner’s release.
The Mercury were in Washington to play the Mystics on Tuesday.
Mercury forward Brianna Turner said officials encouraged the team to continue talking publicly about Griner.
“They encouraged us to keep speaking her name, to keep holding them accountable to bring B.G. back 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 detained. Many WNBA players supplement their incomes in the league’s offseason by playing internationally, where the top-tier athletes can draw salaries of around $1 million.
The drug charges carry a penalty of up to 10 years in prison if Griner is convicted in Russia.
Initially, Griner’s supporters spoke little publicly about the detainment, fearing her situation would become part of the larger global conflict involving Russia’s invasion of Ukraine and the United States’ 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.
In May, Cherelle Griner, Brittney Griner’s wife, appeared on “Good Morning America” and appealed to Biden to intervene.
“I just keep hearing that he has the power,” Cherelle Griner said. “She’s a political pawn. If they’re holding her because they want you to do something, then I want you to do it.”
Brittney Griner’s supporters have followed in vocalizing their support for her release. Many WNBA players have worn T-shirts and hoodies in support of Griner, and her 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 ask for Griner’s release.
“B.G. is our family,” Taylor said. “She’s yours, too. The entire global sport community needs to come together to insist that she be a priority.”