President Joe Biden on Wednesday was set to mail off a letter he wrote to Brittney Griner amid widespread demands for the U.S. government to expedite any efforts to free the professional basketball star from a Russian prison. The letter was expected to be sent after Biden and Vice President Kamala Harris had a conversation with Griner’s wife earlier in the day, according to the White House.
Biden and Cherelle Griner spoke by phone after the president called “to reassure her that he is working to secure Brittney’s release as soon as possible,” according to the White House statement. The president also read Cherelle Griner the letter he planned to send to Brittney Griner.
“The President offered his support to Cherelle and Brittney’s family, and he committed to ensuring they are provided with all possible assistance while his administration pursues every avenue to bring Brittney home,” the statement said in part before adding: “The President directed his national security team to remain in regular contact with Cherelle and Brittney’s family, and with other families of Americans held hostage or wrongfully detained abroad, to keep them updated on efforts to secure the release of their loved ones as quickly as possible.”
The phone conversation between Biden and Cherelle Griner came as pressure mounts on the president to free the 2-time Olympic gold medalist and 7-time WNBA all-star.
Brittney Griner has been held in a Russian prison since being arrested in February for alleged possession of hashish oil vape cartridges. Her trial began last week. Defendants in Russian criminal courts have been acquitted less than 1% of the time, according to the Associated Press. Brittney Griner faces up to a decade in prison if convicted.
It was recently revealed that Brittney Griner penned a letter to Biden expressing fears that she may stay in a Russian prison cell forever.
“I sit here in a Russian prison, alone with my thoughts and without the protection of my wife, family, friends, Olympic jersey, or any accomplishments, I’m terrified I might be here forever,” Griner wrote in the letter that was delivered on Monday, the Fourth of July holiday that celebrates the nation’s independence and freedom.
On Tuesday, the #WinWithBlackWomen collective of more than 1,100 Black women leaders called on the Biden Administration to step up its efforts to have the basketball star released.
“While it should not matter because she is an American citizen who is wrongfully detained on foreign soil, Brittney Griner cast her first ever vote in 2020,” the #WinWithBlackWomen letter to Biden reads in part. “She voted for you and Vice President Kamala Harris. More than prioritizing her immediate return in word – you must do so in deed and make a deal to bring Brittney home.”
That same day, Griner’s WNBA coach suggested the player’s gender, race and sexual orientation may be factoring into what seems like a delayed response by the U.S. government.
“If it was LeBron, he’d be home, right?” Phoenix Mercury coach Vanessa Nygaard asked rhetorically. “It’s a statement about the value of women. It’s a statement about the value of a Black person. It’s a statement about the value of a gay person. All of those. We know it.”
The fact that the U.S. successfully negotiated a prisoner swap with Russia that saw the release of a white American male and not Brittney Griner two months after the WNBA player was detained lent further credence to Nygaard’s words. In return, a Russian pilot convicted in the U.S. for cocaine trafficking and sentenced to 20 years in prison for flying the drugs to West Africa from South America was sent back to his homeland.
In that instance, Biden in late April managed to free Trevor Reed, a former Marine from Texas who allegedly assaulted an officer arresting him in 2019 for public intoxication in Russia and was facing nearly a decade behind bars for the allegations. While Reed’s freedom led to speculation that Brittney Griner could be next, nearly three months have passed since then.
That optimism may have been a bit hasty since it took nearly three full years for Reed to gain his freedom over a charge that typically results in an overnight jail stay in the U.S. Considering the fact that Griner’s alleged crime is much more serious in nature than Reed’s charges of public drunkenness, any fears that it could take even longer to bring her back home seem justified.