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State Department Says WNBA Legend Brittney Griner Was 'Wrongfully Detained'

Brittney Griner’s mug shot and in uniform with the WNBA’s Phoenix Mercury (AP photo)

Brittney Griner's detention in Moscow has become an international incident. The WNBA center was searched as she entered Russia on a flight from New York on January 29 when officials allegedly found vape cartridges in her bag at Sheremetyevo Airport near Moscow. Griner initially wasn't identified, but Tass revealed it was her. 

Seventy-five days later, on May 3, the State Department determined Griner's being "wrongfully detained" and that "the U.S. government will continue to undertake efforts to provide appropriate support to Ms. Griner."

Scheduled for a court appearance in May, that was extended another month to sometime in June by a Russian court on May 13. Griner's Russian attorney commented, "It could take longer. It could happen quicker."

It is taking longer, as anticipated. On June 15, TASS reported another delay, noting Griner will "remain in Russian custody through at least July 2."

Griner has played for the Phoenix Mercury since 2013. For the last seven years, she's suited up for the Russian team UMMC Ekaterinburg (near Siberia) in the off season. After the league took a break on January 29, Griner attempted to exit the country, but was stopped and searched by Russian Customs at bag check, and then detained.

"Griner’s arrest should serve as a wake-up call to all Americans in Russia,” former U.S. ambassador to Moscow Michael A. McFaul told the New York Times. “Get out. Shut down your businesses now.”

U.S. Rep. Sheila Jackson Lee is demanding the release of Griner, who's been detained for almost one month.

"Brittney Griner is a United States citizen, she was a guest in Russia," the Congress member says. "I don't want to disregard a sovereign nation, but [Vladimir] Putin has disregarded sovereign nations in his entire service in this world. Anyone that is killing and attacking and destroying Ukraine, their neighboring country that is not bothering them, has no right to hold Miss Griner, period. This should be dealt with diplomatically and she should be released." 

Evelyn Farkas: “If we want her out of jail, Russia is going to have some terms." 

A native of Houston, the 6-foot-9 hoopster won a national championship at Baylor before being drafted by Phoenix as the first overall pick in 2013. In her second season, the Mercury earned the league championship. During her eight years in the WNBA, Griner's averaged 17.7 points, 7.6 rebounds and 2.8 blocked shots. After her career is over, she'll be inducted into the league's Hall of Fame. Griner also played on championship Olympic teams in 2016 and 2020 and has won several titles in Russia.

About her experiences playing in Russia, Griner told ESPN in 2017: "It made me learn how to be by myself. It made me grow on the court and off the court." Watch the clip below.

In 2019, Russia arrested American-born Israeli citizen Naama Issacher for possessing a small amount of marijuana. She received a 7.5-year sentence on a trumped-up smuggling charge and was detained in a prison 50 miles outside of Moscow for nine months before she was released in 2020 in exchange for Alexei Burkov, a Russian hacker arrested at Ben Gurion Airport in Tel Aviv in 2015.

Putin will likely will use Griner as a pawn as he did with Issacher. “If we want her out of jail, Russia is going to have some terms,” predicts Evelyn Farkas, who was U.S. Deputy Assistant Secretary of Defense for Russia and Ukraine from 2012-2015. “It could be a prisoner swap. They also could use it as an implicit threat or blackmail to get us to do something or not do something. Either way, they find it useful.”

With Russia's invasion currently playing out in Ukriane, Griner is caught in middle at a very perilous time.

This article was originally posted on March 3, 2022. It has been updated several times,

 

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Steve Bloom

Steve Bloom

Publisher of CelebStoner.com, former editor of High Times and Freedom Leaf and co-author of Pot Culture and Reefer Movie Madness.