WNBA Star Brittney Griner Found Guilty, Sentenced To 9 Years In Russian Prison

The Phoenix Mercury basketball player had been held in a Russian jail since February 2022. In August 2022, a Russian court found her guilty of drug-smuggling.

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

On Aug. 4, 2022, a Russian court found WNBA star Brittney Griner guilty on drug charges and sentenced her to nine years in a Russian prison.

Griner, 31, was arrested in February 2022 at a Moscow airport and accused by Russian prosecutors of trying to smuggle less than 1 gram of cannabis oil in her luggage. She was in the country during her WNBA offseason, where she played for UMMC Ekaterinburg, in Yekaterinburg, Russia.

In May 2022, the United States government reclassified Russia’s detention of Griner as “wrongfully detained,” according to a 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 meant the Biden Administration pursued 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.

With this reclassification, groups like the National Black Justice Coalition called for the government to move swiftly to bring the Phoenix Mercury player home.

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

"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.

During her trial in July 2022, Griner pleaded guilty in what her lawyers say was an attempt to take responsibility and receive leniency if she were to be convicted and sentenced.

On Aug. 4, 2022, Griner was sentenced to nine years in a Russian prison after being convicted of deliberately smuggling drugs into Russia.

“I never meant to hurt anybody, I never meant to put in jeopardy the Russian population, I never meant to break any laws here,” Griner told the court before sentencing. “I made an honest mistake and I hope that in your ruling that it doesn’t end my life here. I know everybody keeps talking about political pawn and politics, but I hope that that is far from this courtroom."

According to CNN, President Joe Biden said the lengthy sentence was “unacceptable” and called on Russia to release Griner immediately.

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