U.S. State Department officials met Monday with Brittney Griner’s WNBA team, Phoenix Mercury, to discuss the status of Griner’s long-term detention in Russia and his efforts to secure his release.
Griner, one of the most popular WNBA stars, has been in Russia since February. On the 17th, customs officials accused him of carrying hashish oil in his luggage at an airport near Moscow.
In May, the State Department said it determined that Griner had been “wrongfully arrested.”
“It’s something we’ve all talked about as a team, and now that we know the State Department at the highest level, from the US President Joe Biden to the group working to return all the wrongfully arrested Americans, we have a lot of confidence that they’re working on that,” he said. Diana Taurasi, the star guardian of Mercury, in a note. “Everything we can do to increase BG and put it first will be our top priority.”
The meeting was attended by representatives of the State Department, including the Office of the Special Envoy of the President of the Presidential Affairs, according to a department spokesman. Mercury members then spoke with representatives of Arizona Democrat Greg Stanton and Texas Democrat Sheila Jackson Lee. In May, Representatives Stanton, Jackson Lee and Colin Allred, a Texas Democrat, introduced a resolution calling for Griner’s release.
Mercury are in Washington to play against Mystics on Tuesday.
Mercury striker Brianna Turner said officials encouraged the group to continue talking publicly about Grine.
“They encourage us to keep saying his name, to bring BG home to continue to demand accountability,” Turner said in a statement.
Griner was returning to Russia to play for UMMC Yekaterinburg, a professional women’s basketball team, when he was arrested. Many WNBA players make up their income during the off-season of the league by playing internationally, where top athletes can earn salaries of around $ 1 million.
Drug charges carry a 10-year prison sentence if Griner is convicted in Russia.
Initially, Griner’s supporters spoke little about the arrest, fearing that his situation would become part of a wider global conflict involving Russia’s invasion of Ukraine and the US’s close relationship with Russia.
That strategy was changed after the State Department said Griner had been “wrongfully arrested” after Russia sentenced Trevor R. Reed to nine years in prison for assaulting Trevor R. Reed in exchange for prisoners.
Reed’s release sparked hopes of freeing Griner and Paul N. Whelan, a former U.S. Marine who was sentenced to 16 years in prison in Russia on charges of espionage.
What to know about the arrest of Brittney Griner in Russia
In May, Cherelle Griner, Brittney Griner’s wife, appeared on “Good Morning America” and asked President Biden to intervene.
“I keep hearing that he has power,” Cherelle Griner said. “He’s a political pawn. If they want to do something, they want me to do it. ”
Supporters of Brittney Griner have continued to call for her release. Many WNBA players wear T-shirts and hooded shirts in support of Griner, and their initials appear on the courts for all 12 WNBA teams.
Penny Taylor, Taurasi’s wife and one of Griner’s former teammates, used her entry into the Women’s Basketball Hall last week to release Griner.
“BG is our family,” Taylor said. “She is OK. We need to unite the entire sports community around the world to make it a priority. ”