American women’s basketball great Brittney Griner has been detained in Russia for at least three weeks after the two-time Olympic gold medal winner and seven time WNBA All-Star was arrested at a Moscow airport for allegedly having a vape pen filled with hash oil.
Griner, 31, was detained last month while flying in to play for her Russian basketball team during the WNBA offseason, but there has been no confirmed date of when she was arrested. Her last communication was on February 5 when she posted a photo to Instagram of her and her Phoenix Mercury teammates.
Now Russia might use Griner as leverage as she faces up to 10 years in prison on the drug smuggling charge.
‘If we want her out of jail, Russia is going to have some terms,’ Former U.S. Deputy Assistant Secretary of Defense for Russia and Ukraine Evelyn Farkas told Yahoo Sports. ‘It could be a prisoner swap. They also could use it as an implicit threat or blackmail to get us to do something or not do something. Either way, they find it useful.’
In a statement to DailyMail.com on Saturday, Griner’s agent Lindsay Kagawa Colas did not dispute reports of her client’s detention.
‘We are aware of the situation with Brittney Griner in Russia and are in close contact with her, her legal representation in Russia, her family, her teams, and the WNBA and NBA,’ Colas said. ‘As this is an ongoing legal matter, we are not able to comment further on the specifics of her case but can confirm that as we work to get her home, her mental and physical health remain our primary concern.’
Griner’s wife, Cherelle, also took to social media Saturday to thank people for their prayers during what she described as one of the ‘weakest’ moments of her life.
‘Thank you to everyone who has reached out to me regarding my wife’s safe return from Russia,’ she captioned a photo of her and Brittney.
‘Your prayers and support are greatly appreciated. I love my wife wholeheartedly, so this message comes during one of the weakest moments of my life. I understand that many of you have grown to love BG over the years and have concerns and want details. Please honor our privacy as we continue to work on getting my wife home safely. Thank you!
Many are worried for Griner’s safety while in custody in Russia – where Vladimir Putin has enacted strict anti-gay laws.
Griner, pictured in black, is seen being stopped by airport police after a sniffer dog picked up something in her bag in February
Griner is pictured putting her bag through a scanner after she was approached by a sniffer dog
Griner was in Russia to play for UMMC Yekaterinburg in the women’s EuroLeague, where she has played since 2016 and helped the team win four titles
Griner’s last communication was on February 5 when she posted a photo to Instagram of her and her Phoenix Mercury teammates
On Saturday, Griner’s wife Cherelle (right) thanked people for their prayers during what she described as one of the ‘weakest’ moments of her life
Many are worried for Griner’s safety while in custody in Russia – where Vladimir Putin has enacted strict anti-gay laws
Texas Congressman Joaquin Castro said he would monitor the situation and said Griner must be safely returned
Prominent politicians from her home state of Texas are also calling for her release.
On Saturday, Congresswoman Sheila Jackson Lee said she has spoken with the State Department to get the WNBA star released.
‘We know that there were some issues dealing with vape cartridges and other items but let me be very clear,’ Lee, who represents Griner’s hometown of Houston, said on Saturday. ‘Brittney Griner is a United States citizen, she was a guest in Russia…and I will be demanding her release.’
Texas Congressman Joaquin Castro said he would monitor the situation and said Griner must be safely returned.
‘I’m closely monitoring reports of Texan Brittney Griner’s detention in Russia. This follows a pattern of Russia wrongly detaining & imprisoning US citizens, including Trevor Reed. US citizens are not political pawns. Brittney, Trevor, and other Americans must be safely returned,’ he tweeted on Saturday.
Timeline of Griner’s detainment in Russia
WNBA star Brittney Griner flew from New York to Moscow’s Sheremetyevo International Airport where she was detained at an unknown date and charged with ‘smuggling narcotic drugs in a significant amount’
Griner played for UMMC Ekaterinburg before the league took a two-week break in early February for the FIBA World Cup qualifying tournaments
Griner made her last communication when she posted a photo to Instagram of her and her Phoenix Mercury teammates
The Biden administration told Americans to leave Ukraine and warned that an invasion could begin ‘at any time’ but Griner could have already been detained by then.
Russia began its invasion of Ukraine
The Russian Federal Customs Service released a statement confirming that an American ‘two-time Olympic basketball champion’ had been taken into custody in February
Griner flew from New York to Moscow’s Sheremetyevo International Airport, where drug-sniffing dogs were drawn to her luggage, according to InterFax Russian news agency. The date of her flight has not been revealed.
After the dog identified the bag, a customs agent used ‘fluoroscopic equipment’ to scan the contents and discovered the vape cartridges.
Video shared on Telegram showed the moment she was apprehended, with a dog approaching Griner as she walked through the airport. She was then seen putting her belongings through a scanner, with cops putting items in a plastic evidence envelope and sealing it shut as she looked on.
‘The customs inspection of hand luggage carried by a US citizen confirmed the presence of ‘vapes’ with a liquid with a specific smell, and an expert found that the liquid is a narcotic cannabis oil (hash oil),’ according to the Russian customs service.
Griner was flying to Russia to play for UMMC Yekaterinburg in the women’s EuroLeague, where she has played since 2016 and helped the team win four titles.
She last played for UMMC Ekaterinburg on January 29 before the league took a two-week break in early February for the FIBA World Cup qualifying tournaments, CBS News reported.
Griner, like many other players, take overseas jobs to supplement their salary from the WNBA.
She earned over $1 million per season playing for the Russian team.
Her arrest in Russia couldn’t come at a worse time as the country has been isolated financially and politically from the rest of the world after it invaded Ukraine.
Air travel between Russian and the U.S. has been halted as part of the economic sanctions that President Joe Biden levied against the Slavic nation for attacking its neighbor.
On February 11, six days after Griner’s last Instagram post, the Biden administration told Americans to leave Ukraine and warned that an invasion could begin ‘at any time’ but Griner could have already been detained by then.
Many American professional basketball players competing in Russia during the WNBA offseason found themselves scrambling to find airline tickets to the United States following Vladimir Putin’s invasion of Ukraine over safety concerns.
Players that fled include WNBA stars Breanna Stewart, Courtney Vandersloot, Jonquel Jones, Natasha Howard and Arike Ogunbowale, the Washington Post reported.
On Saturday, the State Department recently issued an advisory not to travel to Russia citing the possible ‘harassment against U.S. citizens by Russian government security officials.’
Officials added that U.S. citizens should leave Russia immediately and that the embassy had ‘limited ability to assist U.S. citizens.’
‘Thank you to everyone who has reached out to me regarding my wife’s safe return from Russia,’ Brittney’s wife Cherelle Griner told her followers on Saturday (couple pictured together)
After her divorce with Johnson was finalized in 2016 Griner was ordered to pay child support for twin daughters Ava Simone and Solei Diem (pictured)
In 2015, Griner and her then wife, Glory Johnson, (pictured) were suspended for seven games after they were arrested and charged with domestic violence
‘USA Basketball is aware of and closely monitoring the legal situation facing Brittney Griner in Russia,’ the WNBA said in a statement. ‘Brittney has always handled herself with the utmost professionalism during her long tenure with USA Basketball and her safety and wellbeing are our primary concerns.’
Many are worried for Griner, who is openly gay, to be detained in Russia- which is famously anti LGBTQ+.
The Phoenix Mercury confirmed that Griner was arrested and jailed. Possession of cannabis is illegal in Russia. Possession of up to six grams can result in a fine or imprisonment of up to 15 days, while being caught with larger amounts can lead to a stiffer sentence.
It is unclear how much of the drug Griner had in her possession.
She was charged with ‘smuggling narcotic drugs in a significant amount,’ according to Interfax, a crime that carries a penalty of five to ten years in prison.
Griner, who is known for her sharp elbows on and off the basketball court, led Baylor University in Waco, Texas, to a national championship in 2013 before being drafted first overall by the Phoenix Mercury later that year.
She averaged more than 15 points per game in 2014, the year the team won the WNBA championship.
The six-foot-nine-inch center was part of gold medal-winning 2016 U.S. Women’s Basketball team in Brazil and again won gold in the 2020 Tokyo Olympics.
In 2015, Griner and her then wife, Glory Johnson, were suspended for seven games after they were arrested and charged with domestic violence.
Griner pleaded guilty to disorderly conducted and agreed to a six month domestic violence prevention counseling, after which the charges were cleared, according to The New York Times.
In June 2015 after Johnson revealed she was pregnant with twins following an IVF treatments, Griner filed for an annulment from Johnson after less than a month of marriage.
According to Griner, she married Johnson under pressure said she was not involved in her pregnancy.
Their divorce was finalized the next year and Griner was ordered to pay child support for twin daughters Ava Simone and Solei Diem.