There’s been a major change in the Brittney Griner case, which signals there could be movement happening behind closed doors.
According to ESPN, the United States government has now classified the basketball star as wrongfully detained in Russia. This change in status gives the government more options in how her case can be handled. It can begin negotiating for her release without waiting for her case to work through Russia’s legal system. WNBA players, as well as other supporters and friends, now have the blessing of Brittney’s family to speak publicly about her case. Up until this point, the two-time Olympic gold medalist’s family and team have been keeping a low profile and working quietly to help her.
The State Department released the following statement to ESPN: “The Department of State has determined that the Russian Federation has wrongfully detained U.S. citizen Brittney Griner. With this determination, the Special Presidential Envoy for Hostage Affairs Roger Carstens will lead the interagency team for securing Brittney Griner’s release.”
ESPN also confirmed that Bill Richardson, the former U.S. ambassador to the United Nations, who worked on negotiating the recent release of former Marine Trevor Reed and has been an international hostage negotiator for years, agreed to work on Griner’s case last week. It’s worth noting that the State Department says Griner is not considered a hostage–that is a different classification.
The Phoenix Mercury center has been detained in Russia since February, when police say they found vape cartridges containing hash oil in her luggage while she was returning to the country to play with UMMC Ekaterinburg. In March, her arrest was extended until May 19.
Following the recent release of Reed, many wondered what was being done to help Griner who has had little contact with American officials due to the incredibly strained relationship between the U.S. and Russia. It’s also important that we never lose sight of the fact that Brittney is a high-profile queer woman of color in country with anti-LGBTQ+ laws. A dangerous situation made even worse by the current political climate.
With the WNBA season about to start, this change is even more significant, as it allows players to speak out about Brittney and her case while they have the attention of the sports world. Per a press release provided to The Root, the league itself will show its support for the WNBA champion by having her initials and No. 42 on the sidelines of every team’s court.
“As we begin the 2022 season, we are keeping Brittney at the forefront of what we do through the game of basketball and in the community,” WNBA Commissioner Cathy Engelbert said in a statement. “We continue to work on bringing Brittney home and are appreciative of the support the community has shown BG and her family during this extraordinarily challenging time.”