WNBA, NBA players urge Congress, President Biden for Brittney Griner’s safe return

Brittney Griner
FILE – Phoenix Mercury center Brittney Griner during the first half of Game 2 of basketball’s WNBA Finals against the Chicago Sky, Oct. 13, 2021, in Phoenix. Brittney Griner is easily the most prominent American locked up by a foreign country. But the WNBA star’s case is tangled up with that of another prisoner few Americans have ever heard of. Paul Whelan has been held in Russia since his December 2018 arrest on espionage charges he and the U.S. government say are false. (AP Photo/Rick Scuteri, File)

This Thursday makes it 111 days since Phoenix Mercury center Brittney Griner was detained by Russian authorities in February. On Monday in her hometown of Houston, elected officials and fans held a vigil in her honor outside the Toyota Center.

Handmade signs saying “Free Brittney Griner” and “Bring Griner Home” waved in the crowd as Houston mayor Sylvester Turner and congresswomen Sheila Jackson Lee spoke.

Griner who played for UMMC Ekaterinburg during the WNBA’s offseason was leaving Russia in the midst of the country’s invasion of Ukraine. The 6-foot-9 center was stopped by airport security after finding vape cartridges that allegedly contained hashish oil in her luggage. As a result, authorities took Griner into custody for further investigation, and have detained her since then. 

Brittney Griner
WNBA star and two-time Olympic gold medalist Brittney Griner leaves a courtroom after a hearing, in Khimki just outside Moscow, Russia, Friday, May 13, 2022. Griner, a two-time Olympic gold medalist, was detained at the Moscow airport in February after vape cartridges containing oil derived from cannabis were allegedly found in her luggage, which could carry a maximum penalty of 10 years in prison. (AP Photo/Alexander Zemlianichenko)

Back in March, The Mercury and the WNBA issued a statement stating that they’re ‘closely monitoring the situation with Brittney Griner and remain in consistent contact’. 

Now over 100 days later, Griner is still being held by authorities with the only form of communication coming from letters and emails sent from players in the league.

It’s not clear when Griner may be released however, some feel as though her detainment is being used as a political move by Russia. NBA players like LeBron James, Carmelo Anthony, and the NBA itself are urging President Biden and congress to work together in bringing the player back to the states. 

A change.org petition is also circling around social media and has gained more than 250,000 signatures that also urges the Biden administration to help bring her home. But bringing Brittney back could be a daunting task for the White House and congress. With tensions already strained between Russia and the United States, there seems to be very little action being done from world leaders. 

In an interview with Good morning America, Griner’s wife Cherelle, spoke about her skepticism of the U.S. stepping in to help. 

“You say she’s top priority but I want to see it,” Griner said. “For me to see it would be seeing BG on U.S. soil, at this point I don’t know who I’m getting back when she comes back.” 

With missing 11 games of the WNBA season, it’s also unclear if Griner will be released in time to possibly play or sit for a game with The Mercury. On May 13, Griner’s detention was extended by a month after being denied house arrest. With her physical presence being missed heavily by The Mercury, they are still making her presence known in spirit by wearing her initials, wearing t-shirts with her face on them, and her jersey number. 

With only five days remaining in her extension, some are hopeful that Russian authorities will release Griner and be able to come home after this tumultuous four-month ordeal. As for now The Mercury, WNBA, and NBA will continue to push for Griner’s safe return home to the U.S. 

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