Brittney Griner’s Team Meets With U.S. State Department Over Her Detainment

U.S. State Department officials met on Monday with Brittney Griner’s W.N.B.A. 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 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 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 number one priority.”

The meeting included representatives from the State Department, including the Office of the Special Presidential Envoy for Hostage Affairs, according to 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 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 W.N.B.A. players supplement their incomes in 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 up to 10 years in prison if Griner is convicted in Russia.

Mercury Coach Vanessa Nygaard. Those close to Griner initially had a strategy of silence to avoid politicizing her case, but that has since shifted to a more public campaign.Credit…Darryl Webb/Associated Press

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.

What to Know About Brittney Griner’s Detention in Russia

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What happened? In February, Russian authorities detained Brittney Griner, an American basketball player, on drug charges, after she was stopped at an airport near Moscow. Since then,her detention has been repeatedly extended, and a Russian court has denied an appeal from her legal team.

Why is she being detained? Officials in Russia said they detained Griner after finding vape cartridges that contained hashish oil in her luggage. The officials said a criminal case has been opened into the large-scale transportation of drugs, which can carry a sentence of up to 10 years.

Why was she in Russia? Griner was in Russia playing for an international team during the W.N.B.A. off-season. Trading rest for overseas competition is common among the league’s players for many reasons, but often the biggest motivation is money.

Does this have anything to do with Ukraine? Griner’s detention comes during an inflamed standoff between Russia and the United States over Russia’s invasion of Ukraine, but it is still unclear whether Russia might have targeted Griner as leverage against the United States.

How is the United States approaching the situation? In March, U.S. officials were finally able 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 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 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 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.”

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