When the WNBA All-Star Game tips off July 10, no one will have more of a heart for Brittney Griner than her wife Cherelle. They’ve been through so much together.
Several months after they got married on May 8, Griner was arrested on drug charges and sent to prison. Cherelle and the rest of her family have fought for her freedom.
Brittney Griner, an NCAA, WNBA and Olympic champion, was detained in Russia in February. She was returning to play overseas for her club team, UMMC Ekaterinburg, after a successful season in the U.S.
As the story spread, Griner’s family, friends and teammates began to speak out in support of her. They began to publicly urge President Joe Biden to do everything in his power to secure her release.
Cherelle Griner, Brittney’s wife, has been a tireless advocate for her wife’s freedom since her arrest in Russia. She recently reflected on the road ahead in an Instagram post that included a collage of people who have helped her through this difficult time.
Why did she go to Russia?
Two-time Olympic gold medalist Brittney Griner went to Russia as part of her WNBA offseason. She has played for UMMC Yekaterinburg in the country since 2014, and the team has drawn other top athletes including Sue Bird, Diana Taurasi and Candace Parker.
During the offseason, it is common for basketball players to travel overseas for business purposes. But this was the first time an American athlete had been detained abroad in this way.
Prominent sports figures, such as LeBron James and Megan Rapinoe, have been vocal in urging Russia to release Griner. And Texas Republican Senator John Cornyn said he will continue to advocate for her return.
In July, President Biden and his team began negotiating with Russia about a prisoner swap. It would see Griner and former Marine Paul Whelan released in exchange for Russian arms dealer Viktor Bout, who has been in the US for 25 years.
How did she get arrested?
In February, WNBA star Brittney Griner was detained in Russia. She was traveling back to her team, UMMC Ekaterinburg, in the Russian offseason, but she got arrested for smuggling vape cartridges that contain oil derived from cannabis, which is illegal in Russia.
Her arrest was viewed as a sign of growing tensions between the US and Russia. The country has been involved in the invasion of Ukraine and imposed harsh economic sanctions on several nations, making it difficult for American officials to bring Griner home.
In May, the State Department declared her arrest as wrongful detainment and the Office of the Special Presidential Envoy for Hostage Affairs began overseeing her case. But the situation continues to linger, and Cherelle Griner has grown increasingly frustrated that her efforts to secure her wife’s release haven’t been enough.
What did she do?
Griner is an eight-time WNBA All-Star and two-time Olympic gold medalist who hails from Houston. She earned her bachelor’s degree from Baylor University.
She is a three-time All-American, AP Player of the Year and a former Most Outstanding Player in the NCAA tournament. She was also named to the Naismith and Wooden All-American teams and received the prestigious James Madison Award.
After a lengthy court case, Griner was found guilty and sentenced to nine years in prison for smuggling cannabis into Russia. She admitted guilt but insisted she had no intent to break the law, per CBS News.
In an open letter to President Joe Biden, she wrote that she was “terrified” of being behind bars forever. She said she was hoping Biden could secure a prisoner exchange to free her from Russian prison.
Why is she still in prison?
In the days after her arrest, Griner’s supporters poured into social media to encourage her release. She also received support from the Phoenix Mercury and Connecticut Sun WNBA teams, who held a moment of solidarity during their games.
Griner’s family has been fighting for her release for months, and her wife, Cherelle Griner, has been a vocal advocate as well. She told CBS News that she’s been in communication with U.S. officials and is thankful for their efforts to get her freed.
The Griner case has become a flashpoint in the ongoing crisis between Russia and the U.S. In February, she was arrested in Moscow on charges of bringing cannabis oil to the country. She pleaded guilty and said that the drugs were mistakenly packed in her luggage. She was sentenced to nine years in a penal colony.