WNBA player Brittney Griner’s detention in Russia has now been reclassified by the U.S. government to “wrongfully detained.” This upgraded status indicates a shift from the lower profile that both the league and the government hoped would help aid her release.
However, now the situation is front and center for both parties.
“Brittney has been detained for 75 days, and our expectation is that the White House do whatever is necessary to bring her home,” according to Lindsay Kagawa Colas, agent for Griner, who sent a statement Tuesday to ESPN.
Brittney Griner has been classified by the U.S. State Department as "wrongfully detained" by Russia, per @TJQuinnESPN
U.S. officials will attempt to negotiate her release rather than wait for results from Russia's legal system. pic.twitter.com/db19BRbFxR
— Bleacher Report (@BleacherReport) May 3, 2022
The official designation change signals the State Department’s shift in position from waiting for the Russian legal process to play out. The agency is now preparing to negotiate for her release, as suggested by a statement sent to ESPN this week:
“The Department of State has determined that the Russian Federation has wrongfully detained U.S. citizen Brittney Griner. With this determination, the Special Presidential Envoy for Hostage Affairs Roger Carstens will lead the interagency team for securing Brittney Griner’s release.”
Now there begins a collective reversal about publicizing her detainment, as the WNBA will reportedly be honoring the Phoenix Mercury center this season with a floor decal.
Featuring Griner’s initials and her jersey number No. 42, the decal will be placed on the home court of all 12 WNBA teams. Additionally, the WNBA plans to announce a tribute to Griner.
“As we begin the 2022 season, we are keeping Brittney at the forefront of what we do through the game of basketball and in the community,” said WNBA Commissioner Cathy Engelbert in an email statement released Tuesday morning. “We continue to work on bringing Brittney home and are appreciative of the support the community has shown BG and her family during this extraordinarily challenging time.”
Amid this incredible news, let's also remember that Brittney Griner has been detained in Russia since mid-February.
Griner is a queer Black woman, detained in a country with laws hostile to LGBTQ+ people.
Here she is with her wife Cherelle in happier times. pic.twitter.com/x9IUhIbCp5
— Nora Neus (@noraneus) April 27, 2022
Turn Of Events
It is a massive reversal from the earlier discussion within the WNBA and those close to Griner. The parties involved believed a lack of nationwide campaigning for her release would make her less of an asset during the global attention Russia has received currently due to the invasion and conflict in Ukraine.
“So what we were told, and again, this is all sort of passed along through hearsay; what we were told was to not make a big fuss about it so that they could not use her as a pawn, so to speak, in this situation in the war,” WNBA legend Lisa Leslie said in March on the “I AM ATHLETE” podcast.
“So to make it like it’s not that important, or don’t make it like ‘Free Brittney’ and we start this campaign, and then it becomes something that they can use,” Leslie continued. “That’s what we were told, and I don’t want to say who said that, but it’s been kind of spreading through the women’s basketball world.”
Additionally, Brittney’s wife, Cherelle Griner, took to Instagram to ask for the family’s privacy early in the situation.
Russian authorities detained the decorated WNBA player after they say vape cartridges filled with hashish oil were discovered in her luggage on Feb. 17.
Griner was returning to Russia as a player for UMMC Ekaterinburg. The Russian league’s season started and went on a two-week break for the FIBA World Cup qualifying tournaments in early February.
Season Returns Without Its Star
Griner led the Phoenix Mercury to the Finals last season, where they lost to the Chicago Sky. However, her season-long performance was MVP-caliber.
The Phoenix Mercury begins their season at home this Friday night against the Las Vegas Aces without their star center. However, now they can let the world know just how much they miss her.