WNBA star Brittney Griner has been detained in Russia for more than four months, and her incarceration seems no closer to ending. But there has at least been a major advancement: Griner’s trial finally has a date, and is set to begin on July 1— but the court ruled that she would be held for six additional months while the legal proceedings take place.
Griner, an eight-time All-Star and WNBA champion, was arrested in a Moscow airport and faces drug transportation charges after marijuana vape cartridges were found in her luggage. If convicted, she could face up to 10 years in prison. Despite her tremendous success stateside, Griner has spent her offseasons playing for Russian Premier League team UMMC Ekaterinburg since 2014 (a common practice among even the WNBA’s best players because foreign leagues frequently pay better).
In May, the U.S. State Department deemed Griner to be “wrongfully detained,” and assigned a prominent hostage negotiation envoy to her case. Ex-United Nations ambassador Bill Richardson said last month that he felt “optimistic” Griner would be freed, but that it would likely require some sort of high-profile exchange with Russia given the 31-year-old athlete’s celebrity status.
Griner’s wife Cherelle has been active in raising awareness around her detention through the We Are BG campaign. She previously implored President Joe Biden to use his power to secure her release in an ESPN interview and has said she has not spoken to her wife since she was arrested.
”I’m in a position of complete vulnerability right now. I have to trust people that I didn’t even know until Feb. 17,” Griner told ESPN. “So I’m trusting her lawyers… ‘How does she look? How is her spirit? How is her energy?’ I’m just asking all those questions, trying to just get some type of indication or vibe.”
In the first few months she was being held, Griner was rarely seen publicly. She appeared briefly in a courtroom on May 13, and since then has been able to speak with her lawyers, as well as a State Department official. Spokesperson Ned Price said Griner was “continuing to do as well as could be expected under these exceedingly challenging circumstances,” but implored Russia to uphold the rules set forth in the Vienna Convention on Diplomatic Relations.
The 2022 WNBA season is currently underway, with Griner having been named an honorary All-Star. Vanessa Nygaard, coach of Griner’s Phoenix Mercury, spoke to reporters about the importance of bringing her back to America.
“It’s been 126 days since Brittney Griner was wrongfully imprisoned in Russia,” Nygaard said. “We are strongly urging the Biden administration to do everything they can to help bring Brittany home. And we need everyone trying their best to get the attention of the Biden administration, because 126 days is way too long.”