Brittney Griner Story Explained: Released After 10 Months In Russian Custody

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Brittney Griner
Brittney Griner

Brittney Griner, a center for the Phoenix Mercury, was exchanged for Viktor Bout, a global arms dealer, on Thursday, Dec. 8, after spending almost ten months in custody in Russia.

Griner was arrested in February when the Russian Federal Customs Service allegedly found hashish oil in her suitcase at an airport close to Moscow. She was then released and sent back to the United States as part of a prisoner exchange. That agreement was hammered out in recent weeks before receiving president Joe Biden’s final ascent. On December 8, 2022, President Joe Biden announced her release through Twitter.

Many of her sports colleagues spearheaded the effort to bring her to the United States before her release. LeBron James urged President Joe Biden, as well as Vice President Kamala Harris, to keep pressing for Griner’s return, uploading a post to social media in support of the Olympian.

Brittney Griner Story Explained

Brittney is a well-known WNBA player who has been a member of the Phoenix Mercury since 2013. Before turning pro, she created history while playing basketball for Baylor University, when her freshman season saw her set the all-time single record for blocked shots. Since 2014, she has participated in WNBA off-season games for the Russian UMMC Ekaterinburg women’s basketball squad.

Why Was Brittney Griner Detained
Why Was Brittney Griner Detained

Why Was Brittney Griner Detained?

On February 17, 2022, Brittney was detained by Russian officials who said she was found in possession of hash oil cartridges while passing through airport security in Moscow. Russian customs officials announced that they had started a criminal investigation into the “large-scale trafficking of drugs,” which is punishable by up to 10 years in prison there.

On March 5, 2022, when word of her arrest first surfaced, some observers connected her detention and Russia’s prior practice of imprisoning Americans as political prisoners. Rep. Joaquin Castro of Texas wrote at the time, “This continues a history of Russia wrongfully arresting & imprisoning US people, including Trevor Reed.” “Political pawns are not US citizens. The safe repatriation of Brittney, Trevor, and other Americans is necessary.” (Reed is a retired Marine who had been held in Russia since 2019; he was released and sent back to the United States in April 2022.)

The U.S. State Department reversed course in May 2022 and said that Russia had “wrongfully imprisoned” Brittney. Because of this, Roger Carstens, the Special Presidential Ambassador for Hostage Affairs, started negotiating her release right once. Later, her wife Cherelle called Blinken to discuss the particulars of the matter.

Support From Her Teammates

The Phoenix Mercury received salary cap and roster relief from the WNBA, allowing Brittney to collect her entire season’s pay without it going against the team’s cap. The initials and jersey numbers of Brittney are also painted on every WNBA floor.

Brittney’s WNBA colleagues have been among the most vocal athletes, donning shirts and pins in memory of their teammate and pleading for her release at press briefings and on social media. Adam Silver, the commissioner of the NBA, stated that the organization is actively coordinating with the American authorities to “expedite” Brittney’s homecoming.

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Brittneys Trial
Brittney’s Trial

In June 2022, Silver stated that she had been kept in Russia unlawfully for more than a hundred days. “I think we should all contact our lawmakers and others to express our opinions on this matter. I will only say that, in collaboration with the US administration and outside experts, we are making every effort to accelerate her release.”

Brittney’s Trial

Brittney’s arrest was extended by nearly three weeks by a Russian court in June 2022, so she will remain behind bars for at least until July 2. The athlete’s imprisonment was prolonged for an additional 18 days, as reported by the Russian media outlet TASS, “at the request of the investigators.”

Alexander Boikov, Brittney’s attorney, informed on June 27, 2022, that his client’s trial is scheduled to start on July 1 and that her custody will be prolonged for the duration of the legal processes. The athlete was in pre-trial prison until at least July 2, according to earlier reports from Russian news outlets. The basketball player attended a hearing in a court in the Khimki neighborhood of Moscow that same day for a brief appearance. She was shown on camera being held by two guards as she entered the courtroom in handcuffs.

Brittney’s Letter To Biden

In a letter to Biden in July 2022, Brittney asked for aid in returning home. “I’m afraid I might be here forever,” she said, “sitting here in a Russian prison, alone and with my thoughts, without the support of my friends, wife, family, Olympic shirt, or any accomplishments.” “I miss my wife so much! I miss my family so much! I miss my squad mates! It kills me to think that they are currently suffering so much. Anything you can do to get me home now would be greatly appreciated.”

Brittneys Letter To Biden
Brittney’s Letter To Biden

She also mentioned her father’s military service and said she supported the former senator in the 2020 election. “On July 4th, especially in honor of my father, a Vietnam War veteran, our family traditionally celebrates the sacrifices made by those who sacrificed for our freedom. It hurts me to think about how I used to enjoy this day since independence means something utterly different to me this year than it did last year,” she continued. “I voted for the first time in 2020, and I decided to back you. I believe in you.”

Following Cherelle’s admission that she feared she could never see her wife ever, the White House disclosed that Biden, as well as Vice President Kamala Harris, had reached Cherelle to address Brittney’s case. The White House released a statement on July 6, 2022, saying that “the President called Cherelle to ensure her that he is starting to work to gain Brittney’s release as quickly as possible, as well as the discharge of Paul Whelan and other American citizens who are unlawfully detained or taken captive in Russia and around the world.” 

The Support Continues

In a Moscow court on July 7, 2022, Brittney admitted to using drugs. The athlete reportedly told the judge, “I’d want to plead guilty, your honor,” according to Reuters. “However, there was no purpose. I was reluctant to violate the law.” She continued by saying that she required “time to prepare” for her testimony. The 14th of July was her next court date.

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Cherelle, on the other hand, expressed her gratitude for the call from Biden as well as Harris. “While I will remain worried and vocal until she gets home,” she said in a statement, “I am heartened in discovering that the President got my wife’s letter and had the time to answer.” “I’m sure BG will find solace in the knowledge that she is not forgotten,”

Brittney Griner Charged With 9 Years Of Prison
Brittney Griner Charged With 9 Years Of Prison

In July 2022, Megan Rapinoe, Steph Curry, the ESPY Awards host, and WNBA stars Skylar Diggins-Smith and Nneka Ogwumike called for the American government to act in Brittney’s case. Rapinoe remarked in her victory speech, “I think honestly what we’ve experienced today is the value of sport and how much we can offer and how much we can now get done in the society with our collective force.” “Every time we mention her name, it puts pressure on everyone, including the government and Russia. The absence of BG is what stands out the most. BG is entitled to freedom. We can show her our affection and give her greater encouragement.”

Brittney Griner Charged With 9 Years Of Prison

In August 2022, a Russian judge sentenced Brittney to nine years in prison after finding her guilty of narcotics smuggling with criminal intent. Additionally, she received a 1 million ruble ($16,400) fine. Russia has previously stated that any discussions for a prisoner swap would need to wait until Brittney’s sentence has been handed down.

During the judicial proceeding, the athlete stated, “I never planned to hurt anybody but the Russian population in danger or infringe any laws here.” “I made a sincere mistake, and I really hope that your decision won’t put an end to my existence here. I realize that politics and political pawns are often brought up, but I sincerely hope they have no place in this courtroom.

The Situation Feels Like A Movie

Rodman disclosed to NBC in August 2022 his strategy for helping Griner’s release “I was given the go-ahead to visit Russia and help that young woman. This week, I’m going to go.” About a week later, though, the United States government advised against the former NBA player’s proposal, so he changed his mind. Shortly after Rodman’s statement, State Department spokesman Ned Price told ABC News that “He would not be flying on behalf of the U.S. government.” “We feel that anything other than continuing negotiations through the existing channel is likely to make such release attempts more difficult and less successful.”

Since the conviction was revealed, Cherelle said during her first interview since Brittney was sentenced that her life has seemed “like a movie.” She commented during an appearance on CBS Mornings in October 2022, “It concerns me because when you see movies, often those situations don’t end well.” They occasionally never receive their person back.

Two Calls With Her Wife
Two Calls With Her Wife

The recent law school graduate acknowledged that she worried about losing contact with Brittney. “I start wondering, “Do we get her back?” while I sit there. Will I ever see my wife once again? For example, what happens [next]? The phrase “everything is so unprecedented and dynamic” strikes me as being a really good one “Cherelle clarified. “I feel like I learn something new every day, so it’s really terrifying,” the speaker said.

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Two Calls With Her Wife

Cherelle discussed her two phone calls with Brittney since her arrest 8 months earlier in the entire transcript of her October 2022 interview. Cherelle described the initial contact as “was so amazing just to hear her voice,” adding that she believed her wife was doing okay and that they “could overcome this.”

But the second call wasn’t as consoling. You could tell she wasn’t feeling well, according to Cherelle. “I believe I cried nonstop for two or three days. The call was the most upsetting one I’d ever received. I was speechless.”

As she turned 32 while imprisoned in October 2022, Brittney issued a statement through CNN saying, “Thank you, everybody, for trying so hard to get me home.” “All the love and support are undoubtedly helping me.”

The Prisoner Swap Appeal

In August 2022, Brittney’s attorney informed that an appeal had been submitted in response to the Russian court’s ruling. In an effort to return the athlete home safely, officials proposed the option of a prisoner swap, and the US State Department described her imprisonment as a “wrongful detainment.” The appeal was turned down by a Russian court in October 2022. The decision was criticized by the White House.

The Prisoner Swap Appeal
The Prisoner Swap Appeal

In a statement to The Washington Post, U.S. national security advisor Jake Sullivan said, “We are conscious of the news from out Russia that Brittney Griner would continue to be illegally held under horrible circumstances after having to face another fake judicial proceeding today.” “President Biden has been extremely clear that Brittney must be released quickly.”

The WNBA star’s attorneys said in a statement in November 2022 that they “do not have any knowledge on her specific current location or her future destination” and that the athlete was being transported to a jail colony.

Brittney Griner Release

President Joe Biden revealed that the WNBA star had been released from a Russian jail cell in December 2022. The athlete’s release was negotiated by the Biden administration in return for Viktor Bout, a convicted arms dealer. The head of state explained the athlete’s release at a news conference while flanked by Vice President Kamala Harris as well as Griner’s wife, Cherelle Griner.

Biden remarked, “These recent months have been hard for Brittney and Cherelle.” “People from all across the nation have been aware of Brittney’s story, supported her in her horrific ordeal, and pushed for her release. I know that her family appreciated the support. I’m happy to report that Brittney is in high spirits and relieved to be returning home at last.”

Brittney Griner Release
Brittney Griner Release

He went on: “[Brittney] embodies everything positive about America. She wrote to me back in July, asking only for a simple quote: “Please do not forget about all the other American inmates and me.” She didn’t beg for special treatment. Please try your best to get us home. Brittney was never forgotten by us.”

During the news event at the White House, Cherelle also said: “My family is complete today, but as you are all aware, there are a great number of incomplete families. [Brittney] and I will continue to be dedicated to the effort to provide every American with a home.”

On December 9, 2022, the WNBA player’s plane touched down in Houston, Texas. U.S. State Department representative Roger Carstens, who had been flying with Griner, tweeted about their arrival early that day. “So glad to see Brittney back in the US. “BG, welcome home,” wrote Carstens.

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By Mohsin Nakade

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