WASHINGTON - The Biden administration has determined that WNBA star Brittney Griner is being wrongfully detained in Russia, meaning the United States will more aggressively work to secure her release even as the legal case against her plays out, two U.S. officials said Tuesday.
Griner was detained at an airport in February after Russian authorities said a search of her bag revealed vape cartridges containing traces of cannabis oil. Since then, U.S. officials had stopped short of classifying the Phoenix Mercury player as wrongfully detained and said instead that their focus was on ensuring that she had access in jail to American consular affairs officials.
Now, though, U.S. officials have shifted supervision of her case to a State Department office focused on negotiating for the release of hostages and other Americans deemed wrongfully detained.
It was unclear what prompted the shift, though President Joe Biden’s administration had been under pressure from members of Congress and others to make Griner’s release a priority. The U.S. last week secured the release of Marine veteran Trevor Reed as part of a prisoner swap that also resulted in a convicted Russian drug trafficker being freed from prison in the U.S.
ESPN first reported the classification in Griner’s case. Two U.S. officials confirmed it on the condition of anonymity because they were not authorized to discuss it by name.
Substituting layup lines for checkout lines, Phoenix Mercury players were trading places with Fry's Food Store employees to give back to the community on May 3. When Mercury super fan Bernadette Gibson found out, she knew she had to stop by, but her favorite player, Griner, was noticeably absent.
"We just have to get her back it’s so sad. It makes me want to cry all the time but there was some good news today. It said that there was may be a problem, that it was not warranted so that was uplifting on this day when we are going to get to see everybody else," she said.
The WNBA Players Union President tweeted in response, saying, "It is time for her to come home. We are hopeful that their efforts will be significant, swift, and successful."
Fans couldn't agree more.
"She talks to everybody and I go to all the games so it’s been really nice. She’s family so, you know, when you lose a member of your family, you hurt," Gibson said.
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PHOENIX, ARIZONA - OCTOBER 06: Brittney Griner #42 of the Phoenix Mercury during the first half in Game Four of the 2021 WNBA semifinals at Footprint Center on October 06, 2021 in Phoenix, Arizona.