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WNBA players break silence on Brittney Griner

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Russia Griner Arrested Basketball

FILE - Phoenix Mercury center Brittney Griner is shown during the first half of Game 2 of basketball's WNBA Finals against the Chicago Sky, Wednesday, Oct. 13, 2021, in Phoenix. A Moscow court announced it has extended the arrest of WNBA star Brittney Griner until May 19, according to the Russian state news agency Tass. Griner was detained at a Moscow airport in February after Russian authorities said a search of her luggage revealed vape cartridges. They were identified as containing oil derived from cannabis, which could carry a maximum penalty of 10 years in prison. (AP Photo/Rick Scuteri, File)

MINNEAPOLIS (AP) — Two of Brittney Griner’s USA Basketball teammates have broken their silence on the star player’s imprisonment in Russia.

Most WNBA players have been hesitant to talk about Griner’s detention on apparent drug charges in Russia, hoping to avoid potentially hurting her case.

“People are saying she’s 6-foot-9, she’s different. It’s really not about that,” said USA Basketball player Angel McCoughtry on Wednesday at the team's training camp in Minneapolis. “It could have been any of us.”

Players have been keeping discussions about how to best help Griner within their community. WNBA players have been very cohesive in the past when rallying behind issues such as voter registration or the Black Lives Matters movement.

For the first few weeks following Griner's detention, it was decided that it was clearly better for them to say less.

The Phoenix Mercury star was detained after arriving at a Moscow airport in mid-February. Russian authorities said a search of her luggage revealed vape cartridges that allegedly contained oil derived from cannabis, which could carry a maximum penalty of 10 years in prison. Griner was returning to the country after the Russian League was taking a break for the FIBA World Cup qualifying tournament.

“The big thing is the fact that we have to go over there. It was BG, but it could have been anybody,” said Breanna Stewart, who earns over $1 million to play in Russia. “WNBA players need to be valued in their country and they won’t have to play overseas.”

Besides offering support for Griner, Stewart also wanted to help a charity that the Mercury's All-Star has been involved with — The Phoenix Rescue Mission — for a long time.

“While BG is away I wanted to support her and her charitable efforts and do what I can from an off-the-court standpoint to help her and her family,” Stewart said.

Russia has been a popular destination for WNBA players like Stewart, McCoughtry and Griner over the past two decades because of the money they can make playing there in the winter.

The WNBA has made strides to increase player salaries and find other ways to compensate players in the last collective bargaining agreement, which was ratified in 2020. The contract, which runs through 2027, pays players an average of $130,000, with the top stars able to earn more than $500,000 through salary, marketing agreements, an in-season tournament and bonuses.

The CBA also provides full salaries while players are on maternity leave, enhanced family benefits, travel standards and other health and wellness improvements.

The legal team for the two-time Olympic gold-medalist has been quietly seeking Griner's release and has declined to speak out about the case since her arrest was made public.

Of the thousands of U.S. citizens arrested and jailed in prisons abroad, a small subset are designated by the U.S. government as wrongfully detained — a category that affords their cases an extra level of government attention and places them under the auspices of the Special Presidential Envoy for Hostage Affairs at the State Department. The U.S. government has not yet put Griner’s case in that category.

Griner is not the only American detained in Russia. Marine veteran Trevor Reed was sentenced to nine years in prison in 2020 on charges alleging that he assaulted police officers in Moscow. And Michigan corporate security executive Paul Whelan is serving a 16-year sentence on espionage charges that his family and the U.S. government have said are false. U.S. officials have publicly called for Moscow to release them.

 

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