WNBA team meets US officials over Brittney Griner Russia arrest

Fellow players pledge to continue to ‘amplify’ case of Griner, who was arrested by Russian authorities in February.

Brittney Griner
Phoenix Mercury center Brittney Griner has been held in Russian prison since February [File: Rick Scuteri/The Associated Press]

Members of the Women’s National Basketball Association’s (WNBA) Pheonix Mercury have met the US State Department to discuss fellow player Brittney Griner’s months-long imprisonment in Russia.

The State Department confirmed the meeting on Monday, saying it included officials from its office that advocates for hostages and wrongfully arrested Americans. Griner was arrested in an airport in Moscow on February 17 after Russian authorities said they had found a vape cartridge containing a cannabis derivative in her bag.

“We’re here to do whatever we can to amplify and keep BG at the forefront, which is more important than any basketball game and anything else that’s going on in our lives,” Mercury star Diana Taurasi said in a statement released by the team after the meeting. “We want BG to come home as soon as possible, it’s number one on our list.”

In May, the State Department reclassified Griner as wrongfully arrested and transferred oversight of her case to the State Department Presidential Envoy for Hostage Affairs, or SPEHA.

The administration of President Joe Biden has previously said that it is working to bring Griner and another American, Michigan corporate security executive Paul Whelan, home from Russia. However, her detention came just days before Russia invaded Ukraine on February 24, tanking relations between Washington and Moscow.

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.

Griner earned more than $1m per season playing in Russia, more than quadruple her WNBA salary.

“We are on day 116 since BG has been wrongfully detained,” said Mercury coach Vanessa Nygaard in a statement.

“It was great to hear from the State Department that we should continue to amplify that message and that we should continue to press all those who have any influence or power to help bring BG home.”

State Department officials have so far reported that Griner remains in good conditions, but have called for more access to her. Her fellow players have been able to send emails and letters through an account her agent set up, according to the Associated Press.

The emails are printed out and delivered sporadically in bunches to Griner by her lawyer after they are vetted by Russian officials.

High profile players from both the NBA and WNBA, including international superstar Lebron James, have used social media to call on the Biden administration to bring Griner home. Last month, NBA Commissioner Adam Silver said getting Griner home was the “number one priority” for both the men’s and women’s league

Some teams have also taken to donning “We Are BG” T-shirts to call further attention to Griner’s case.

Source: Al Jazeera and news agencies