As WNBA star Brittney Griner’s Russian trial begins, her wife, Cherelle Griner, is no longer remaining quiet about her frustration with the U.S. government’s response.
The Phoenix Mercury center has been wrongfully detained in Russia since Feb. 17, when police say they found vape cartridges containing hash oil in her luggage. She is now being charged with attempted drug smuggling. If she’s found guilty, which is highly likely, she can be sentenced to 10 years in prison.
In her letter to President Biden, Brittney pleaded with him not to “forget about me” and wrote, “I’m terrified I might be here forever.” In response to this letter, Cherelle told King she is “heartbroken” to see her normally strong wife so vulnerable and scared.
“She is probably the strongest person that I know, so she doesn’t say words like that lightly. That means she truly is terrified that she may never see us again. I share those same sentiments,” Cherelle said.
Cherelle also believes that it was her family’s inability to get a meeting with the president that led Brittney to write the emotional letter.
“It kills me every time when I have to write her and she’s asking, ‘Have you met with them yet?’ And I have to say, ‘No’... I’m sure she is like, ‘I’m going to write him and ask now because my family has tried to no avail. So I’m going to do it myself,’” Cherelle told King.
Like many of us, Cherelle was shocked at her wife’s defeated demeanor and seemingly troubled mental state during her first court appearances. Brittney’s fans and friends noted how alone she was in her situation, which is a familiar feeling for a lot of Black women.
“I honestly wrote her and was like, ‘Hey honey, I saw a picture of you, and I know there’s [a] such thing as propaganda, but I have to ask, I’m inclined to ask... are you okay? Are you insane at this point? Understand that if you are, I still love you and when you come back, we will love you back whole, show yourself grace. If you are not insane, please help my conscience and tell me some more context about the picture,’” Cherelle said.
In response, the two-time Olympic gold medalist told her wife, “I am weak right now, and I was very weak at that moment. I’m not insane. Not yet. I was startled because I turned the corner and it was like hundreds of media just sitting there with cameras and things waiting and so she was shocked.”
While there is an increase in media attention now, when Brittney was first detained, Cherelle, her family, the Phoenix Mercury and the WNBA all made a decision not to speak out, as making too much noise could lead to more severe punishment for Brittney. However, once the U.S. State Department officially classified her as wrongfully detained, that opened the door for more public advocacy. Now Cherelle feels as though the government is not taking her wife’s case seriously enough and she’s done playing nice.
“Initially I was told, we are going to try to reserve, we’re going to try to handle this behind [the] scenes and let’s not raise her value and stay quiet. I did that and respectfully, we’re over 140 days at this point. That does not work,” Cherelle said. “So I will not be quiet anymore. I will find that balance of harm versus help in pushing our government to do everything that’s possible because being quiet, they’re not moving, they’re not doing anything. So my wife is struggling, and we have to help her.”
The hard truth of the situation is that it probably won’t be resolved for a while. There’s just too much going on behind closed doors and the tense politics of the world can change from moment to moment. Of course, this is nothing new for Black women. We are often left to fight and advocate for ourselves, finding our own way out of all the shit the world piles on us. To that end, “an intersectional, intergenerational group of Black women leaders” from around the United States have written a letter supporting Brittney Griner to President Biden and Vice President Harris.
It reads in part:
“We stand with our sister, Brittney Griner, and the more than 270,000 people who have signed the petition urging you to bring Brittney Griner home. Like many WNBA athletes, Brittney plays abroad during the WNBA offseason for the love of the sport, but also in exchange for substantially bigger contracts, which are not available to women’s basketball players in the US. Pay inequity has led to Brittney Griner’s wrongful detention in Russia, where she is being used as a political pawn. She is consistently denied consular access, enduring inhumane conditions, being denied communication with her spouse, family, and friends. In addition to distinguished accomplishments in the United States and decorated Olympian, Brittney is a member of an elite global sports community, a four-time Euroleague champion and seven-time Russian League Champion. Brittney’s detention must be resolved out of respect for the safety of all athletes who travel to compete internationally and the sanctity of sport. It is imperative, President Biden, that you address this ongoing human rights crisis and make a deal to bring Brittney home quickly and safely.”
“While it should not matter because she is an American citizen who is wrongfully detained on foreign soil, Brittney Griner cast her first ever vote in 2020. She voted for you and Vice President Kamala Harris. More than prioritizing her immediate return in word – you must do so in deed and make a deal to bring Brittney home. We eagerly await your response.”