The United States will now consider WNBA star Brittney Griner as “wrongfully detained” by the Russian government, according to a report by ESPN.
Griner has been in Russian custody since February after Russian Federal Customs Service officials say they found vape cartridges containing hashish oil in her luggage at an airport near Moscow.
“The Department of State has determined that the Russian Federation has wrongfully detained U.S. citizen Brittney Griner,” a U.S. state department official said in a statement to ESPN. “With this determination, the Special Presidential Envoy for Hostage Affairs Roger Carstens will lead the interagency team for securing Brittney Griner’s release.”
The decision to label Griner as “wrongfully detained” is a significant moment in Griner’s case, as the Biden administration will no longer wait for her case to play out in Russian court, and Griner’s Phoenix Mercury teammates, along with the rest of the WNBA, will be encouraged to speak out on her case.
In March, it was reported that Griner’s detention had been extended until May 19, meaning the WNBA star would have a hearing in a few weeks.
Last week, U.S. State Department spokesman Ned Price told CNN that her case is a “top priority” for the government.
“When it comes to Brittney Griner, we are working very closely with her team. Her case is a top priority for us,” Price said. “We’re in regular contact with her team.”
It’s the second time that Price has appeared on CNN and discussed Griner’s situation, informing the network that an official from the U.S. Embassy was finally “granted consular access to Brittney Griner” in late March.
“Within the past couple hours, an official from our embassy has been granted consular access to Brittney Griner,” Price said on CNN. “We were able to check on her condition. We will continue to work very closely with her legal team, with her broader network to see to it that she is treated fairly. That is a message that we will continue to convey in no uncertain terms to the Russian Federation.”
Price also provided an update on her condition, saying that Griner was in “good condition.”
Surprisingly, Griner’s detainment has not been front-page news, with WNBA great Lisa Leslie saying in March that she was told not to make a “big fuss” over Griner’s arrest lest Griner be used as a pawn by Russia.
“What we were told, and again this is all sort of passed along through hearsay, but 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,” Leslie said. “So, to make it like it’s not that important or don’t make it where we’re like, ‘Free Brittney’ and we start this campaign, and then it becomes something that they can use.”
However, as WNBA training camps have commenced, Griner’s Mercury teammates have stated that their teammate is on their minds as they prepare for the 2022 regular season.
“We’ve just got to keep praying for her,” Mercury guard Sophie Cunningham said. “We hope she’s well. No one wants to be in her situation. We miss her like crazy, so we’re still just trying to do good things around the community, you know, her shoe drive, so if you want to do anything to support her, let’s do that but (we’re) just praying for her.”
Joe Morgan is the Sports Reporter for The Daily Wire. Most recently, Morgan covered the Clippers, Lakers, and the NBA for Sporting News. Send your sports questions to email@example.com.