Brittney Griner's extended Russian detainment is 'extremely concerning,' US government officials say
WNBAstar Brittney Griner has been held in Russian custody, reportedly for traveling with drugs.
- A US congressman is calling the length of the American's detainment overseas "extremely concerning."
United States government officials are laying the groundwork for a drawn-out battle to bring American
The seven-time WNBA All-Star and two-time Olympic gold medalist has been held in Russian custody after customs agents at a Moscow airport allegedly found a vape pen with a cannabis oil-filled cartridge in her luggage. Since Griner's arrest, President Joe Biden and other American authorities have been quietly negotiating her release and safe return to the US.
But one congressman — Rep. Colin Allred of Griner's native Texas — admitted that her three-week detainment in
"I know the administration is working hard to try and get access to her and try to be helpful here," Allred told ESPN's Mechelle Voepel. "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," he added. "We don't have a lot of insight into where she is in that process right now."
Allred added that his office has been in contact with the US State Department in an attempt to aid in Griner's return however they can. And while the democratic official added that he's "sure her lawyer in Russia is working through the process," of helping her return home, Allred acknowledged that "every day for anyone being held, particularly being held overseas, is a lifetime."
"I recognize that for her friends and family, this must be an incredibly difficult time," he added. "And for her, I'm sure the uncertainty about what's happening is probably just terrible."
Another member of the US House of Representatives — Rep. John Garamendi of California, who serves on the US House Armed Services Committee — conceded that "it's going to be very difficult" to facilitate Griner's release.
"Our diplomatic relationships with Russia are nonexistent at the moment," Garamendi told CNN on Monday. "Perhaps during the various negotiations that may take place, she might be able to be one of the solutions. I don't know."
Garamendi also noted that "Russia has some very, very strict LGBT rules and laws." Griner is an out lesbian, but it's unclear whether her sexual orientation will impact her legal battle.
The 6-foot-9 Phoenix Mercury superstar faces up to 10 years in a Russian prison for "large-scale transportation of drugs," according to The New York Times. Griner was headed to Russia to play for European powerhouse club
About half of WNBA players travel overseas in the winter to supplement their relatively low salaries from the domestic league. Several other WNBA stars — including Breanna Stewart, Jonquel Jones, Allie Quigley, Courtney Vandersloot, and Emma Meesseman — also play for UMMC Ekaterinburg.
All of these players command significantly higher salaries abroad than they can possibly earn in the states. This year, Griner is set to take home a league-maximum $227,900 annual base salary from the Mercury, with a potential to earn up to $500,000 between bonuses and marketing opportunities should she stay in America for the winter.
But only in recent years has her payday climbed into the six-figure range. With UMMC Ekaterinburg, she reportedly earns $1 million per season, according to The Arizona Republic's Jeff Metcalfe.
Even under ordinary circumstances, this two-season-per-year lifestyle is far from ideal. Without proper time to rest and rehabilitate their bodies, athletes like Griner often find themselves dealing with nagging injuries in addition to accelerated wear and tear that can cut their professional careers short.
But during moments of international crisis — like the early days of the pandemic or right now, as Russia wages war in Ukraine — WNBA players taking on second jobs overseas becomes all the more perilous. Thanks to the rapidly deteriorating relationship between her home country and her off-season abode, Griner may find herself caught in the middle of a fiery feud between two global superpowers.
Even despite the tenuous geopolitical situation, Secretary of State Antony Blinken said the US is prepared to "provide every possible assistance" to Griner and other citizens detained abroad, per ESPN.
"There's only so much I can say given the privacy considerations at this point," Blinken said of Griner. "Whenever an American is detained anywhere in the world, we of course stand ready to provide every possible assistance, and that includes in Russia."
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