WNBA star Brittney Griner’s nightmarish detention in Russia is poised to last even longer, as a Moscow court has ruled she will be held until May 19, per ESPN. Griner, a perennial all-star for the Phoenix Mercury and an Olympic gold medalist, was arrested in a Russian airport on February 17 after vape cartridges containing marijuana-based oils were discovered in her luggage.
Griner, 31, has not been heard from in a month, save for a photo of her released earlier March 8 and a brief clip of her walking into court on March 17. Her charge of large-scale transportation of drugs could lead to a 10-year prison sentence if convicted. There has been active work to try and get her released, though Griner’s team has been quiet about it in public.
“Everyone’s getting the strategy of say less and push more privately behind the scenes,” WNBA Commissioner Cathy Engelbert told ESPN. “It’s the strategy you get from the State Department and administration. It’s our No. 1 priority in talking with her agent and strategists.”
Griner’s wife, Cherelle, has posted on Instagram about how challenging her arrest has been. “My heart, our hearts, are all skipping beats everyday that goes by. I miss your voice. I miss your presence. You’re our person! There are no words to express this pain. I’m hurting, we’re hurting,” she wrote.
Like many WNBA players, Griner spends her offseason playing overseas. She’s played for UMMC Ekaterinburg, based in one of Russia’s largest cities, since 2014. Some of the WNBA’s biggest stars choose to play abroad because they are able to earn significantly more there than they do at home. In a piece for The Atlantic, Jemele Hill wrote that Griner is earning over $1 million playing for Ekaterinburg, compared to a little over $220,000 for Phoenix.
Given that Griner’s arrest coincided with Russia’s hostile invasion of Ukraine, there has been fear among lawmakers and political insiders that the war will complicate the matter of her release. Per The New York Times, the State Department has advised all American citizens traveling in Russia to get out of the country as quickly as possible. In an interview with The Hill, Representative Colin Allred said that the lack of contact between Griner and the American embassy in Moscow is “extremely unusual and extremely concerning.”
“The fact that we’ve not had official government contact with her to help her through this process. She is in touch with her Russian lawyer who is helping us understand her situation and working through the legal process,” Allred said.Experts in that same piece noted that Griner could also have been a target because she is a prominent Black, LGBTQ American celebrity. Under Vladimir Putin, Russia has a history of legal discrimination against queer people.
Griner has been one of the best players in the WNBA since entering the league in 2013. She’s led the league in scoring twice, blocks eight times, and won a championship in 2014.