As WNBA champion Brittney Griner’s Russian appeal looms on Oct. 25, her wife, Cherelle Griner, is still fighting for the basketball star’s freedom. On Thursday, in the wake of the two-time Olympic gold medalist’s nine-year sentence for drug smuggling and possession, Cherelle spoke with CBS Mornings’ Gayle King about her wife’s mental state and her heartbreaking fears of being left behind.
The Phoenix Mercury center has been imprisoned in Russia since Feb. 17, when police claim they found vape cartridges containing less than a gram of cannabis oil in her luggage. In May, the U.S. government classified Brittney as “wrongfully detained,” though Cherelle has a simpler, more devastating description of her wife’s situation.
“On its face, it just seems like my wife is a hostage,” she told King. “To know that a foreign government and our government are sitting down to negotiate for her release, she’s a hostage.”
Back in July, Secretary of State Antony Blinken confirmed that the government made a “substantial offer” for a prisoner swap, which would reportedly see Brittney and former Marine Paul Whelan exchanged for convicted arms dealer Viktor Bout. However, it appears as though talks have stalled as the two countries argue over whether Russia can add another prisoner to the deal.
Cherelle recently met with President Biden at the White House and he assured her that his administration is doing everything in its power to bring Brittney home. Unfortunately, it’s not just up to him.
“I feel like at this point, it’s gonna take Putin to have that same mindset and say, ‘You know what? Brittney Griner, who came to my country for seven, eight years, and helped my country be recognized through sport, pay taxes in my country, helped my country; I’m going to sit at a table and I’m going to be clear about what I need in return for her release so that we can actually get a meeting of the minds between these two governments,’” Cherelle said.
Since the eight-time WNBA All-Star has been detained, the couple has only spoken twice. During their first phone call in August, Cherelle was just happy to hear Brittney’s voice. Sadly, their second call was much more “disturbing.” She could hear the emotional toll this situation was taking on her wife.
“It was hurt. You could hear it. You could hear that she was not okay. If you think about a person suffering, and they have suffered to a max,” Cherelle said. “You could hear that she was at the max that day and there was nothing I could do. It was like 30 seconds and two minutes of her just sitting on the phone literally in tears, just crying. I didn’t have words because at that point I don’t know if she has anything left in her tank to continue to wake up every day and be in a place where she has no one.”
We’ve all seen the photos of how alone and heartbroken Brittney is. For Cherelle, those photos tell her that her wife feels no one cares what happens to her.
“She’s very afraid about being left and forgotten in Russia, or just completely used to the point of her detriment,” Cherelle said. “She’s saying things to me like, ‘My life just don’t even matter no more. You guys don’t see me? Y’all don’t see the need to get me back home? Am I just nothing?’”
She reassured her wife that she would never stop fighting for her, telling Brittney, “Those are all valid emotions to feel and I don’t have answers, except the fact that your life matters to me. I want to get you back home and I’m gonna continue to pray every day that the people that are the decision makers in this situation will have mercy and will sit down and they will see that your life matters and do whatever they can to agree on terms.”
Whenever I write about Brittney Griner, I get ugly comments and emails from people questioning why they should care about someone who got themselves into trouble. If you’re still holding on to some imaginary reason why Brittney deserves to be imprisoned in Russia for nine years, you really need to reach deep down and summon some compassion for her and her family. Imagine getting a call like that from your loved one and being helpless to protect them or comfort them.
It’s not hard to show decency in a situation like this. Just don’t be an insensitive asshole.