WNBA star Brittney Griner is being detained in Russia as the country rages war against Ukraine. Although it’s unclear as to when she was taken into custody, the athlete, who plays as a center for the Pheonix Mercury, was arrested at Sheremetyevo Airport after officials from the Russian Customs Service found vape cartridges containing cannabis oil in her luggage.
According to the organization’s statement, “a working dog from the Sheremetyevo customs canine department detected the possible presence of narcotic substances” in the basketball star’s luggage as she attempted to pass through security screening, CNN noted. The agency also released a video of the incident to the public.
Thousands of fans and Griner’s family are pleading with Russian authorities to bring the 31-year-old back home safely amid the country’s invasion of Ukraine. Here’s everything we know about the situation so far.
What was Griner doing in Russia?
During the WNBA off-season., Griner has been playing with the Russian women’s basketball team UMMC Ekaterinburg for the last seven years. Her last game was on Jan. 29, just before the team took a two-week hiatus in early February for the FIBA World Cup qualifying tournaments. Reports alleged that the Houston native may have been detained during that time. Griner scored big while playing with the Russian team, averaging 13.2 points and 4.2 rebounds per game. The star athlete reportedly makes over a million per season. She’s is also a two-time Olympic gold medalist and she has won a WNBA championship with the Phoenix Mercury.
What are Griner’s charges?
Griner is currently being held on drug charges. If convicted, she could face up to 10 years in prison in Russia. The New York Times reported that Russian authorities have opened up a criminal case against Griner pertaining to “the large-scale transportation of drugs.” She is currently being held in custody as the investigation weighs on.
A petition has been created for the WNBA star’s release
Thanks to sports journalist Tamryn Spruill, thousands of people have signed a Change.org petition urging Griner’s swift and safe return to the U.S. As of March 7, the petition has received over 5,000 signatures.
Spruill, who does regular sports coverage of the WNBA, referred to Griner on the campaign’s website as “a beloved global citizen who has used her platform since her entry into the WNBA to help others.”
Griner’s agent Lindsay Kagawa Colas released a statement about the issue during a press conference on March 5
“We are aware of the situation with Brittney Griner in Russia and are in close contact with her, her legal representation in Russia, her family, her teams, and the WNBA and NBA,” she said. “As this is an ongoing legal matter, we are not able to comment further on the specifics of her case but can confirm that as we work to get her home, her mental and physical health remain our primary concern.”
The Pheonix Mercury also issued a statement that said they continue to stand in solidarity with Griner amid her tough legal woes.
“We are aware of and are closely monitoring the situation with Brittney Griner in Russia. We remain in constant contact with her family, her representation, the W.N.B.A., and N.B.A. We love and support Brittney and at this time our main concern is her safety, physical and mental health, and her safe return home,” the team’s statement read.
Brittney Griner’s wife has finally spoken out
On Mar 6., the star’s wife, Cherelle Griner, finally broke her silence about the heartbreaking situation. Cherelle thanked fans for all their love and support.
“Thank you to everyone who has reached out to me regarding my wife’s safe return from Russia. Your prayers and support are greatly appreciated,” she wrote, captioning a sweet photo alongside Griner.
“I love my wife wholeheartedly, so this message comes during one of the weakest moments of my life. I understand that many of you have grown to love BG over the years and have concerns and want details. Please honor our privacy as we continue to work on getting my wife home safely,” Cherelle added.
In a separate post on Monday, Cherelle took to social media again with a photo of Griner’s family and loved ones, telling fans:
“There are no words to express this pain. I’m hurting, we’re hurting. We await the day to love on you as a family,” she wrote on March 7.
It might be tough to free Griner
Russia’s State Department issued a do not travel advisory amid the ongoing war between the country and Ukraine. Officials urged for U.S. citizens to evacuate, warning Americans of the “potential for harassment” by Russian government security officials” and “the Embassy’s limited ability to assist” Americans in Russia.
A member of the US House Armed Services Committee told CNN that it was “it’s going to be very difficult” to get Griner out of Russia amid the chaotic war crisis.
“Our diplomatic relationships with Russia are nonexistent at the moment,” said Democratic Rep. John Garamendi on Monday. “Perhaps during the various negotiations that may take place, she might be able to be one of the solutions. I don’t know.”
Additionally, Garamendi noted that Russia “has some very, very strict LGBT rules and laws,” but it’s unclear as to whether they will affect the WNBA star’s case.