WNBA Star Brittney Griner Now Considered ‘Wrongfully Detained,’ In Russia

The Phoenix Mercury basketball player has been held in a Russian jail since February, amid rising tensions between Russia and Ukraine.

Brittney Griner at the WNBA Playoffs semifinals at Michelob ULTRA Arena on September 30, 2021 in Las Vegas, Nevada.

Brittney Griner, a Phoenix Mercury basketball player, has been held in a Russian jail since February, amid rising tensions between Russia and Ukraine.

Photo by: Ethan Miller via Getty Images

Ethan Miller via Getty Images

The United States government is now reclassifying Russia’s detention of WNBA star Brittney Griner as “wrongfully detained,” according to a new report by ESPN.

“The welfare and safety of U.S. citizens abroad is among the highest priorities of the U.S government,” a spokesperson for the State Department said in a statement to the outlet. "The Department of State has determined that the Russian Federation has wrongfully detained U.S. citizen Brittney Griner. The U.S. government will continue to undertake efforts to provide appropriate support to Ms. Griner."

This move means the Biden Administration will now pursue the release of the basketball player “more aggressively,” similar to the April 27 release of former U.S. Marine Trevor Reed. Reed had been detained in Russia since 2019, and was released on a prisoner swap after months-long efforts by the U.S. government.

Griner, 31, was arrested in February at a Moscow airport for allegedly bringing vape cartridges that contained cannabis oil into the country. She plays for UMMC Ekaterinburg, in Yekaterinburg, Russia, during the WNBA offseason.

With this reclassification, groups like the National Black Justice Coalition are calling for the government to move swiftly to bring the Phoenix Mercury player home, whose preliminary hearing is on May 19.

"Brittney's status change is an important moment in the movement to bring her home safely and swiftly,” said National Black Justice Coalition deputy executive director Victoria Kirby York, in a statement to Fox News. “We urge the U.S. government to do all it can to bring her home before she is no longer able to maintain her safety in a nation at war."

The WNBA’s 2022 season will start soon and said it will honor Griner, a two-time Olympic medalist, with her initials and jersey number (42) along the sidelines of every court, according to CNN.

Griner will also be paid her full salary.

"As we begin the 2022 season, we are keeping Brittney at the forefront of what we do through the game of basketball and in the community,” WNBA Commissioner Cathy Engelbert said in a statement.

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