It’s been over 100 days since WNBA star and Olympic gold medalist Brittney Griner was apprehended at a Moscow-area airport after being charged with allegedly “smuggling” vape cartridges and cannabis oil into the country. And now she’s going to remain in custody until at least July 2, after a Russian court extended her detention for a second time.
Griner, who is a forward for the Phoenix Mercury, clearly isn’t coming home any time soon, despite reports that her team officials and the Women’s National Basketball Players Association WNBPA met with representatives of the U.S. State Department on Monday to strategize on how to proceed with negotiating the basketball star’s release from custody.
The outcome of that meeting didn’t yield positive results, but the U.S. State Department has made it unequivocally clear that Grinier is being “wrongfully detained by Russia”—she’s likely being used for political leverage—and has since issued a strong warning to Americans about the high risk of traveling to Russia based on the ongoing situation. The government agency also alluded to the possibility that Russia is targeting America citizens specifically to facilitate a swap and secure the release of Russians in American prisons.
This latest development is a heartbreaking one, considering the reason why Griner traveled to Russia in the first place during the WNBA offseason. Unlike NBA superstars, who earn an obscene amount of money both on and off the court, WNBA stars aren’t lucky enough to command massive salaries and thus are inclined to seek opportunities abroad in the off season. To give a quick snapshot: The highest salary for a WNBA player is in the realm of $228K, compared to their male counterparts, who are guaranteed at least $1 million a year.
During a heartfelt interview with ABC News in May, Griner’s wife Cherelle spoke to Good Morning America co-anchor Robin Roberts about the challenges of waiting for her wife to be released from detention and took the chance to send a public plea to President Joe Biden. “I just keep hearing that, you know, he has the power. She’s a political pawn,” she said. “So if they’re holding her because they want you to do something, then I want you to do it.”
In the meantime, Griner has been getting tons of support from NBA stars like Steph Curry, who is using his platform to keep her plight in the public eye. “She needs to be home, she needs to be safe, she needs to be with her family,” Warriors point guard Steph Curry told ESPN earlier this month. “Right now it’s just about getting her home and everybody just joining that effort ... to make sure she’s talked about and all hands are on deck and all resources are thrown at getting her home as soon as possible,” he added.
Los Angeles Lakers superstar LeBron James also tweeted out his support for Griner with the hashtag #WeAreBG: “We need to come together and help do whatever we possibly can to bring BG home quickly and safely!! Our voice as athletes is stronger together.”
All hands are on deck, but this latest setback is a crushing blow and a disturbing indication that Griner’s story may just continue to get darker.