NBA commissioner Adam Silver spoke publicly about WNBA player Brittney Griner’s detention in Russia, expressing the league’s support for the star.
“The league, and by that both the WNBA and its brother league, the NBA, we have a huge responsibility to Brittney Griner as one of our players,” Silver told ESPN’s Malika Andrews. “Part of our decision to not take a higher profile here frankly came at the suggestion of experts in and out of government who thought the best path to getting Brittney out was not to amplify the issue.
“Having said that, there’s an enormous role for the public to play through protests or letting their representatives know how strongly they feel about this, so we’re working now.”
Early during Griner’s detention for vape cartridges allegedly filled with hashish oil discovered in her luggage when she returned to Russia in early February to play for UMMC Ekaterinburg, league officials wanted to keep the attention low, not to raise the profile about the case.
Silver discussing Griner’s predicament is now a reversal of the earlier strategy. Former WNBA great Lisa Leslie explained why players did not discuss Griner’s situation en masse.
Lisa Leslie’s Revelation
“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,” said Leslie 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. 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.”
Eventually, the U.S. government reclassified Griner’s situation to “wrongfully detained.” This upgraded status indicated a shift from the lower profile that both the league and the government hoped would help aid her release in a fraught situation since the Russia’s invasion of neighboring Ukraine on Feb. 24.
Bigger Than Basketball
Last week, Griner’s pretrial detention in Russia was extended for one month. An official of the U.S. consulate met with Griner, and the State Department revealed it is trying to have regular contact with her.
“That consular official came away with the impression that Brittney Griner is doing as well as might be expected under conditions that can only be described as exceedingly difficult,” State Department spokesman Ned Price said. “But sporadic contact is not satisfactory. It also may not be consistent with the Vienna Convention to which Russia has subscribed.”
With the collective voices from the highest places in sports and government now clamoring for Griner’s release, the push is now on to put pressure on Russia.
“Cathy Engelbert, the commissioner of the WNBA, is on this issue every single day. I’m working side-by-side with her,” Silver continued. “We’re in touch with the White House, the State Department, hostage negotiators, every level of government and also through the private sector as well. Our number one priority is her health and safety, and making sure she gets out of Russia.”