WNBA and Phoenix Mercury star Brittney Griner has been detained in Russia for 75 days. Griner, who plays for a Russian team during the offseason, was arrested at a Moscow-area airport in February as she entered the country. Prosecutors claim she brought with her illegal vape cartridges, which contained hash oil.
On Monday, May 2, a State Department official sent sports outlet ESPN a stunning statement: the diplomatic arm of the U.S. government has determined that the Russian Federation is wrongfully detaining Brittney Griner. This classification means officials will now take a different approach in bringing the athlete home.
The United States government can now take a much more active role in getting Griner out of Russia. In a continued effort to keep the case low-profile to avoid making her more valuable to Putin, sources familiar with the matter did not disclose what led to the change in status or what steps would be taken to secure Griner’s release.
Among those steps is Bill Richardson agreeing to work on Brittney Griner’s case. Richardson, a former American ambassador to the United Nations, has privately served as an international hostage negotiator for years. His involvement in the case moves it to a new level in the right direction for the American detainee.
Richardson isn’t the only top brass who will help with Griner’s release. The interagency team tasked with doing this will be led by Roger Carstens, the Special Presidential Envoy for Hostage Affairs. It is essential to bear in mind that Brittney Griner is not considered a hostage, which is a different legal classification than her status as a wrongful detainee.
In a social media post, the WNBA players’ union president, Nneka Ogwumike, said that she is “hopeful the U.S. government efforts will be swift and successful.” The WNBA deemed these developments “the next step in getting BG home” and announced it was in constant contact with the government as they are working together to ensure a safe return for Griner back home as swiftly as possible.