US State Department Working to Extract WNBA Star Brittney Griner from Russia

The 31-year-old hooper is being held in Russia on drug charges that may or may not be legitimate

Brittney Griner of the Phoenix Mercury plays against the Indiana Fever
Brittney Griner of the Phoenix Mercury plays against the Indiana Fever.
Michael Hickey/Getty

Detained in Russia since mid-February on drug charges that may or may not be legitimate, WNBA star Brittney Griner appears poised to get an assist from the United States government.

On Wednesday, Representative Colin Allred of Texas, told ESPN that he was working with the State Department to have the 31-year-old hooper released and get her back to the U.S.

“My office has been in touch with the State Department, and we’re working with them to see what is the best way forward,” said Allred, who is a member of the House Foreign Affairs Committee. “I know the administration is working hard to try and get access to her and try to be helpful here. But obviously, it’s also happening in the context of really strained relations. I do think that it’s really unusual that we’ve not been granted access to her from our embassy and our consular services. The Russian criminal justice system is very different than ours, very opaque. We don’t have a lot of insight into where she is in that process right now. But she’s been held for three weeks now, and that’s extremely concerning.”

Allred, who played football in college, and Griner both attended Baylor University. Griner led Baylor to the 2012 NCAA championship. “This is not the first time in recent years that an American has been detained and then held either without reason or without a sufficient kind of explanation,” Allred said. “What’s obviously different here is that Brittney is an extremely high-profile athlete, and it’s happening during the course of a Russian-begun war in Ukraine, in which we are deeply opposed to what they’re doing.

Though nothing has officially been revealed by Russian authorities, it is believed Griner is facing up to 10 years in prison if convicted on charges that she had vape cartridges containing hashish oil in her luggage. Of course, given the current state of foreign relations with Russia, it is very possible those charges were invented or the cartridges planted.

“With all the problems with Russia and them attacking Ukraine, has Brittney become a political bargaining chip?” Griner’s high school basketball coach Debbie Jackson told The New York Times. “Is this part of politics? So much of it doesn’t make any sense to me that I find it hard to believe that this is really the true thing that happened.”

Selected No. 1 overall by the Phoenix Mercury in 2013, Griner is one of the most dominant women’s basketball players in history. A seven-time All-Star and a two-time Olympian with a pair of gold medals, the former WNBA champion is now involved in a much more dangerous game. As New York Magazine points out, Griner’s detainment by a hostile foreign power should probably be getting more attention.

“The reaction since the arrest has been stunningly quiet,” per NY Mag. “One of the greatest athletes in American sports — a gold-medal winner, a superstar, a champion — was arrested in a dangerous and volatile country that has suddenly become a pariah on the world stage. Making equivalences between sports only takes you so far here, but seriously: Imagine if Tom Brady were being held by Russian officials right now.”

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