Weeks after her arrest, WNBA star and two-time Olympic gold medalist Brittney Griner remains in custody in Russia on drug charges, with little known about her status, the case against her, or even where she currently is in Russia.
In the United States, there has been growing support for Griner’s release. That includes a Change.org online petition started by basketball journalist Tamryn Spruill calling for the safe and swift return of Griner that has garnered nearly 50,000 signatures at the time of this article’s posting.
Russian state television released an image of Griner holding a sign with her name on it, CNN reports.
Russian state TV has released a photo of WNBA star Brittney Griner, who was arrested on drug charges in the country after Russian officials say cannabis oil was found in her luggage. CNN's @RosaFlores has the story. pic.twitter.com/SzB9MSSQfY
— CNN (@CNN) March 8, 2022
However, the current state of relations between Russia and the United States after Russia’s invasion of Ukraine has slowed the flow of information on Griner and made it more difficult for American officials to advocate on her behalf.
U.S. Rep. Colin Allred (D-Texas) spoke to ESPN about Griner’s status.
“My office has been in touch with the State Department, and we’re working with them to see what is the best way forward,” said Allred, who is a member of the House Foreign Affairs Committee. “I know the administration is working hard to try and get access to her and try to be helpful here. But obviously, it’s also happening in the context of really strained relations. I do think that it’s really unusual that we’ve not been granted access to her from our embassy and our consular services.
“The Russian criminal justice system is very different than ours, very opaque. We don’t have a lot of insight into where she is in that process right now. But she’s been held for three weeks now, and that’s extremely concerning.”
Allred also confirmed that Griner was taken into custody on Feb. 17.
Cherelle Griner, Brittney’s wife, shared her concern and emotional support for Brittney on Instagram.
Griner was taken into custody after vape cartridges containing hashish oil allegedly were found in her luggage at the Sheremetyevo Airport, just outside Moscow, according to a Russian Federal Customs Service statement. Both Griner’s WNBA team, the Phoenix Mercury, and USA Basketball confirmed it was Griner who was detained. She was charged with “large scale” transportation of drugs, which could mean up to 10 years in prison.
Brittney Griner has played for the Russian team UMMC Ekaterinberg during the WNBA offseason for several years, competing in EuroLeague games for them this season before her arrest. WNBA players commonly play for a second team because those European and Russian teams often pay far better than the WNBA. (Griner reportedly makes more than four times her WNBA salary from her Russian club.)
Griner is one of the best and most popular basketball players in the world. She was a critical part of Team USA winning gold at the Tokyo Olympics, and she also won a gold medal at the 2016 Rio Olympics. She has played for the Mercury since they drafted her out of Baylor seven years ago, and won the WNBA title in 2014. She is a key part of what is considered a title-contending Phoenix team coming into the WNBA season.
The WNBA reported that all of its other players who had been in Russia are safely out of the country.
The U.S. State Department issued a “do not travel” travel advisory for Russia stating that “U.S. citizens residing or traveling in Russia should depart immediately.”
For full news coverage of Russia’s invasion of Ukraine, visit NBCNews.com.