Brittney Griner’s teammates break silence amid Russia detention

USA Basketball teammates express support for Griner after weeks in detention, say, ‘It could have been any of us’.

Brittney Griner
Two-time Olympic gold medallist Brittney Griner has been detained in Russia since mid-February on drug charges [File: Brian Snyder/Reuters]

Brittney Griner’s teammates have broken their silence amid the US basketball player’s continued detention in Russia, saying they are hopeful that everything is being done to get her home safely.

Griner, a two-time Olympic gold medallist and All-Star centre in the Women’s National Basketball Association (WNBA), has been detained in Russia since mid-February on charges of carrying vape cartridges that contained cannabis oil in her luggage.

Her detention comes at a time of heightened tensions between the United States and Russia over the continuing war in Ukraine, and US officials have kept a low profile publicly amid concerns Griner could be used as a pawn in the dispute.

The WNBA also has said little publicly about Griner’s detention, though the league said in a statement on March 23 that it was continuing to work with government officials and others to get Griner home.

“We’re not talking about BG the basketball player, we’re talking about BG the wife, the daughter, the sister, the human being,” A’ja Wilson, the 2020 WNBA most valuable player and Griner’s teammate on the US national team, said on Friday at USA Basketball training camp.

Brittney Griner of USA competes in the 2016 Rio Olympics with a layup shot.
Griner is a two-time Olympic gold medallist and WNBA All-Star [Mark Ralston/Pool via Reuters]

“That’s what I’m caring about. I get the silence and you don’t want to talk about it. I can’t even imagine to put myself in that situation. It’s tough,” Wilson said. “Hopefully, everyone’s doing what they need to do to make sure she gets home safe.”

Last month, US Department of State spokesman Ned Price said an American diplomat in Moscow was granted consular access to Griner and found her to be in “good condition“. Price added, “We will continue to do everything we can to see to it that she is treated fairly throughout this ordeal.”

But a Moscow court in mid-March extended Griner’s detention until May 19, Russia’s state-run TASS news agency reported – and concerns have persisted about the WNBA star’s fate.

An official with a Russian agency that monitors prison conditions said last month that the only problem the six-foot, nine-inches (206cm) Griner faces in detention is her height. “The beds in the cell are clearly intended for a person of lesser height,” Ekaterina Kalugina of the Public Monitoring Commission told TASS.

Griner, who plays for the WNBA’s Phoenix Mercury, was in Russia to play club basketball before the US season resumed, a common practice for players, who can earn much higher salaries in foreign leagues than on domestic teams.

The 31-year-old played in Russia for the last seven years in the winter, earning more than $1m per season — more than quadruple her WNBA salary.

USA Basketball player Breanna Stewart
Breanna Stewart of the WNBA’s Seattle Storm says women basketball players need to be valued more in the US [Eric Gay/AP Photo]

USA Basketball and Seattle Storm WNBA player Breanna Stewart, who also earns more than $1m to play in Russia, seized on this deeper problem in comments about Griner’s detention earlier this week.

“The big thing is the fact that we have to go over there. It was BG, but it could have been anybody,” Stewart said from the US training camp in Minneapolis. “WNBA players need to be valued in their country and they won’t have to play overseas.”

That was echoed by Angel McCoughtry, another two-time Olympic gold medallist who plays for the WNBA’s Minnesota Lynx. “People are saying she’s 6-foot-9, she’s different. It’s really not about that,” McCoughtry said on Wednesday. “It could have been any of us.”

Meanwhile, USA Basketball coach Cheryl Reeve said on Friday that the US national team and the WNBA are “not going to forget about Brittney Griner”.

“Brittney’s not here, we’re going to do the things she would have done. She’s very philanthropic. Try to honour her in that way until the highest level of government can work this out,” Reeve said.

Source: Al Jazeera and news agencies