MINNEAPOLIS – Two of Brittney Griner’s USA Basketball teammates have broken their silence on the star player’s imprisonment in Russia.
Most WNBA players have been reluctant to talk about Griner’s detention on apparent drug charges in Russia, hoping to avoid hurting his case.
“People say she’s 6-foot-9, she’s different. It’s really not about that,” American basketball player Angel McCoughtry said during the team’s training camp in Minneapolis on Wednesday. It could have been any of us.”
Players had discussions about how best to help Griner within their community. WNBA players have been very cohesive in the past when rallying around issues such as voter registration or the Black Lives Matters movement.
For the first few weeks after Griner was detained, it was decided that it was clearly better for them to say less.
The Phoenix Mercury star was arrested after arriving at a Moscow airport in mid-February. Russian authorities said a search of his luggage revealed vape cartridges allegedly containing cannabis-derived oil, which carries a maximum sentence of 10 years in prison. Griner was returning to the country after the Russian League paused for the FIBA World Cup Qualifying Tournament.
“The big problem is the fact that we have to go there. It was BG, but it could have been anyone,” said Breanna Stewart, who earns over $1 million playing in Russia. “WNBA players need to be valued at home and they won’t have to play overseas.”
In addition to offering his support for Griner, Stewart also wanted to help a charity that Mercury’s All-Star had been involved with — The Phoenix Rescue Mission — for a long time.
“While BG is away, I wanted to support her and her charitable efforts and do what I could from an extrajudicial perspective to help her and her family,” Stewart said.
Russia has been a popular destination for WNBA players like Stewart, McCoughtry and Griner over the past two decades because of how much money they can make playing there in the winter.
The WNBA made strides to increase player salaries and find other ways to compensate players in the latest collective bargaining agreement, which was ratified in 2020. The contract, which runs through 2027, pays players on average $130,000, with top stars potentially earning over $500,000 through salary, marketing deals, in-season tournament and bonuses.
The ABC also provides full salaries while players are on maternity leave, enhanced family benefits, travel standards and other health and welfare enhancements.
The two-time Olympic gold medalist’s legal team has quietly requested Griner’s release and has refused to comment on the case since her arrest became public.
Of the thousands of U.S. citizens arrested and imprisoned in prisons overseas, a small subset are designated by the U.S. government as wrongfully detained – a category that grants their cases an extra level of government attention and places them under the auspices of the Presidential Special Envoy for Hostage Affairs at the State Department. The US government has yet to classify Griner’s case in this category.
Griner is not the only American detained in Russia. Navy veteran Trevor Reed was sentenced to nine years in prison in 2020 for assaulting police officers in Moscow. And Michigan corporate security chief Paul Whelan is serving a 16-year sentence on espionage charges that his family and the US government say are false. US officials have publicly called on Moscow to release them.
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