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Public support grows for WNBA star Brittney Griner as her Russian detainment continues

Phoenix Mercury star Brittney Griner has been detained in Russia since February.
Lorie Shaull / Wikimedia Commons
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Phoenix Mercury star Brittney Griner has been detained in Russia since February.

It’s been more than 100 days since WNBA star and Houston native Brittney Griner was arrested by Russian authorities at a Moscow airport for allegedly having vape cartridges filled with cannabis oil in her luggage. The U.S. government has since declared she was wrongfully detained. Now, more family members and professional athletes are speaking out and asking the U.S. to do more to ensure Griner’s release.

Mechelle Voepel, who reports on women’s basketball for ESPN, said the latest movement in Griner’s case has been the increased public discussion over the past few weeks. Over the weekend, NBA star LeBron James voiced his support on social media, sharing a letter that called on the U.S. government to “immediately address this human rights issue and do whatever is necessary to return Brittney home.”

Trevor Reed, the U.S. veteran who was recently released in a prisoner exchange after nearly three years in Russian jail, has also spoken out about the release of Griner and fellow American detainee Paul Whelan. Reed spoke at a rally in Houston on Monday and detailed his own experience while detained.

Reed “really encouraged people to contact their congresspeople, do everything they can to try to bring these Americans home,” Voepel said. “He’s talked about how deplorable the conditions are there for Americans who are detained. And I thought it was a very powerful thing when you consider, you know, he was there. He experienced it.”

Earlier this month, Griner’s wife, Cherelle, said in an interview with ESPN that the only person who could bring her wife home is President Joe Biden.

“I think [the U.S. government is] trying to do everything they can. I mean, these are really tough negotiations,” Voepel said. “[Former New Mexico Gov.] Bill Richardson has been involved and was involved with getting Trevor Reed released. It comes down to exchange of prisoners, and we know how difficult that kind of negotiation is.

“What is really interesting is that for the first couple of months, everybody close to Brittney, including her wife, did not want a lot of conversation about this because they thought it would make her more of a pawn, and that strategy has changed. So now it is much more about trying to, if you will, apply pressure, but also really just keep bringing awareness to the fact that she’s over there.”

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