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On Friday night, the Phoenix Mercury looks to score a win against the Las Vegas Aces, but they’ll have to do it without their star player Brittney Griner. The WNBA and Olympic champion remains detained in a Russian prison after airport security allegedly found a vape pen containing cannabis extracts in her luggage.
Griner has been detained since February 17. The threat of a potential 10-year prison sentence has hung high over Griner’s head, as friends, family and the U.S. State Department seek her release.
Most recently, supporters of Brittney Griner gained fresh hope when the U.S. State Department reclassified her status to “wrongfully detained.” The change in status came after months of relative silence from U.S. leaders and the recent prisoner exchange that allowed the release of U.S. marine Trevor Reed in late April. Reed had been suffering in a Russian prison for years over what U.S. authorities considered false charges.
With the change in designation, the U.S. government gave the WNBA a green light to keep Griner’s situation front and center. The league will feature floor decals displaying Brittney Griner’s jersey number, No. 42, on all home courts, according to ESPN.
“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. “We continue to work on bringing Brittney home and are appreciative of the support the community has shown BG and her family during this extraordinarily challenging time.”
Sports rivals seek release of Brittney Griner
Courtney Vandersloot is a guard for the Chicago Sky. She was also Brittney Griner’s teammate in Russia at UMMC Ekaterinburg, as the low pay WNBA players receive relative to their male counterparts often forces them to play in other countries during the offseason.
Vandersloot learned about her detainment during a team meeting before the country invaded Ukraine in February.
“I can’t put into words that moment learning that. How we felt for Brittney and how scared we were for Brittney,” she said at her team’s media day, according to a report in the Guardian.
“We are hoping that she’s OK mentally and physically. Hoping that she’s being taken care of. We have the same agent so I’ve been able to stay a little bit in the know. She has the right people working for her. They’re doing everything they can to get her home.”
Previously, Russian State TV announced that Brittney Griner’s extension would be extended to May 19.
It’s unclear whether authorities will force her to take a plea or go to a trial after that date. But one thing remains clear. Without more attention dedicated to securing her release, Griner may end up another victim of Russia’s oppressive regime.