Last week, basketball star Brittney Griner’s nine-year prison sentence on drug smuggling charges was upheld by a Moscow appeals court. This means the WNBA champion and two-time Olympic gold medalist could be sent to a Russian penal colony to begin serving her sentence.
“We are aware of the news out of Russia that Brittney Griner will continue to be wrongfully detained under intolerable circumstances after having to undergo another sham judicial proceeding,” read a statement from National Security Advisor Jake Sullivan. “In recent weeks, the Biden-Harris administration has continued to engage with Russia through every available channel and make every effort to bring home Brittney as well as to support and advocate for other Americans detained in Russia.”
Players and coaches take to social media daily to call for Griner’s release with the hashtag #WeAreBG. On the day of her appeal, USA Basketball posted, “On the 250th day since her detention, BG’s continued imprisonment is a grave injustice.”
Griner’s agent, Lindsay Kagawa Colas posted on Twitter: “Brittney Griner’s nine-plus year sentence is regarded as harsh and extreme by Russian legal standards. Today’s disappointing, yet unsurprising, appeal outcome further validates the fact that she is being held hostage and is being used as a political pawn.”
ESPN.com reported that U.S. officials believe there will eventually be a prisoner swap, but Russia has not yet responded to a “significant” offer made by the U.S. several months ago. Fox News reported that the Kremlin warned against public discussions about a prisoner swap, saying such discussions will lead to a swap not happening.
WNBA Commissioner Cathy Engelbert was asked about Griner during her fireside chat interview with Sports Business Journal publisher and executive editor Abraham Madkour at the Game Changers conference. She described it as “an obviously unimaginable situation.”
“Brittney is one of the greatest basketball players in the history of the game,” said Engelbert. “It’s clear that she’s being wrongfully detained there. As President Joe Biden has said, they’re doing everything in their power to get Brittney home safely and as soon as possible. It’s an extremely geopolitically complex situation. We’re working with the National Security Advisor. We’re working with the Special Presidential Envoy for Hostage Affairs (SPEHA, U.S. Department of Justice).
“Brittney actually recently handwrote me a letter,” she added. “We’ve been writing her throughout the season—players, team management, owners and myself. She recently handwrote me a letter back, and it was incredibly inspiring. She said she’s staying strong, but it’s mentally taxing as you can imagine.”